Villager photo by Isaac Rosenthal
Commerce continues in Chinatown.
Finding, and keeping, affordable housing gets harder
By Chris Kui
Thousands of working-class families all across New York City are affected by the economic downturn. Finding quality affordable housing is now, more than ever, a struggle for countless families and individuals. Yet, what we have been witnessing in the city is a drastic reduction of our affordable housing stock, especially through the conversion of affordable rental housing into luxury apartments and condominiums.
With the mortgage meltdown that’s resulting in families losing their homes and having to re-enter the rental market, with substandard credit coupled with the global financial market crisis that’s shutting down once-vibrant industries overnight adding to the climbing unemployment rates, Asian Americans for Equality is seeing many already vulnerable families teeter on the brink of collapse from the strain of juggling rising rents with the lack of decent jobs and opportunities.
Since 1974, AAFE has been committed to community service and the empowerment of immigrants, low-income families and minorities throughout New York City. AAFE serves tens of thousands of seniors and low-income and working families each year from all five boroughs of New York City, offering an array of programs that encompass the organization’s comprehensive approach to community development. AAFE is involved in affordable housing development, small business assistance, home ownership, immigration, housing, social and legal services, access to technology and public policy advocacy.
Despite 35 years of experience as a “social firehouse” in times of crisis, we are seeing new and emerging changes in the community that require AAFE to draw upon all of our resources and experiences to continue our leadership as community and housing advocates.
In our community organizing work, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in tenants who seek our assistance to protect them from displacement or unscrupulous landlords who utilize harassment tactics and loopholes in housing regulation to maximize their own profits and to deregulate rent-regulated units. Tenant harassment is rampant as landlords take advantage of cultural and linguistic barriers to refuse rent-renewal contracts, post unwarranted eviction notices and purposefully neglect their buildings’ condition, to the point where tenants are forced out for their own safety.
AAFE’s advocacy efforts for tenant rights have been instrumental in opposing predatory landlords in Lower Manhattan. Even in a climate where support for advocacy work is on the decline, AAFE has redoubled our commitment to ensuring that those who have made our community rich in heritage and diversity remain as our neighbors, supporters and friends.
We will continue our various preservation projects in Lower Manhattan. As the availability of city-owned land and buildings for affordable housing preservation and development dwindles, AAFE is working on the preservation of one of the last few gut rehabs on Rivington St. on the Lower East Side, putting up our own capital to start the project.
During the past two years, AAFE has successfully preserved and upgraded more than 100 units of affordable housing in five tenement buildings in Chinatown/Lower East Side, in partnership with the city and the federal government.
AAFE is also working with families and individuals who are facing foreclosure of their homes. AAFE has implemented a foreclosure counseling and prevention program, which enables us to expand foreclosure prevention education, loss mitigation and credit repair to all those who seek our services. We are pleased to have successfully helped prevent an elderly couple from being foreclosed upon by strategically piecing together an intervention plan. In addition, AAFE offers a nationally recognized predatory lending awareness program.
With the enormous economic pressure of rent and cost of living in Lower Manhattan and across our city, we must work together to alleviate the hardships felt by our most vulnerable neighbors. We must fight and prevent displacement, provide quality affordable housing and help working families and individuals plan for a brighter future.
AAFE hopes to engage our neighbors, community leaders, elected officials and banks and funders to support our efforts to preserve affordable housing in Lower Manhattan. Our tenement housing in the area has sheltered waves of new Americans in the last hundred years, and we will work toward the goal of preserving these buildings for another hundred years to come.
Kui is executive director, Asian Americans for Equality