After a decade at the helm of S.U.C.C.E.S.S., Queenie Choo is still fighting for affordable housing

The Chinatown-based organization has come a long way in the past decade.

Queenie Choo

Credit: Queenie Choo on Twitter

The Chinatown-based organization has come a long way in the past decade

Queenie Choo arrived in Canada in the winter of 1980 in Edmonton, Alberta. After some 42 years, Hong Kong-born Choo hasn’t forgotten what it was like. 

“Really cold,” she says with a laugh over a Zoom call with BCBusiness. “I learned the hard way about winter weather in Alberta.”

She also quickly came to learn that the immigrant experience in Canada was just about as unforgiving as the weather. “I still feel that it’s important to pay it forward for those who come after me in the Canadian journey,” she says. “That’s important—to create a sense of independence or empower them to have that sense of wellness, of belonging. Those are very important elements for immigrants to Canada.”

A former nurse and the one-time executive director of Alberta Health Services, Choo has been helping immigrants for the last decade as the CEO of Vancouver-based non-profit social services organization S.U.C.C.E.S.S. In that time, the operation has seen its share of changes. When Choo joined S.U.C.C.E.S.S. it had an annual operating budget of around $30 million and focused primarily on Chinese immigrants. 

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“We had a bit of a deficit situation I had to deal with at the get-go, so it wasn’t fun,” she recalls. “Fast forward over time and we’ve become one of the biggest non-profit social services organizations serving multicultural immigrants from 150 countries all over the world.” That included welcoming swaths of refugees from Syria five years ago and from Ukraine more recently. 

Affordable housing or failure

S.U.C.C.E.S.S. is also deeply invested in securing affordable housing for immigrants, something that’s become harder and harder in the Lower Mainland. To that end, the organization rents and runs some 1,000 units from BC Housing. “There are very basic essential elements we wanted to do, to make sure people have a place to call home,” says Choo. “We have a passion to serve the vulnerable population and people with low and moderate incomes as well.” 

Affordable housing is set to be one of the biggest issues on the docket when BCers go to the ballot box to elect new municipal governments in October. Asked how best to remedy the housing crisis, Choo insists that collaboration is integral. 

“The number one thing we need is for municipal, provincial and federal governments to come together,” she says.

“The Lower Mainland is short on affordable housing. Municipalities need to streamline the process of planning and construction approval. The population has been increasing, and the planning and permitting take up too much time. The provincial government has a mandate to increase affordable housing: How can the provincial government partner with private developers? Federally, there is a national housing strategy. We need to make sure it’s actioned out to ensure we get the support as a nonprofit, to move forward and get it done on the ground.”

It’s impossible to predict whether Choo will be at S.U.C.C.E.S.S. for another 10 years, but in the meantime, she’s certainly not resting on her laurels. “I’m very honoured to have been able to serve the community for the last 10 years,” she says.

“I’ll continue to advocate for those vulnerable people, including newcomers, seniors and families, and I’ll continue to advocate for more affordable housing—it’s important for all communities to be able to be inclusive. And it’s my privilege and honour to serve.”