CELEBRATING FOUR DECADE S OF EQUALITY
ASIAN AMERICANS FOR EQUALITY 1
ACTIVISM & ORGANIZING
DEVELOPING AFFORDABLE HOUSING
CREATING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
ENRICHING OUR COMMUNITIES
ÂŠ Asian Americans for Equality, 2014 Published by Lo-Down Productions LLC Designed by Kim Sillen
Confucius Plaza, New York City, 1974. Photo by Corky Lee.
omentous anniversaries are designed for recollection, for reconnecting with oneâ€™s roots and pausing to celebrate past accomplishments. In the 40 years since its founding, Asian Americans for Equality has become a preeminent affordable housing developer and community development organization with a national reputation. This improbable feat, from the humblest of beginnings, is worth celebrating on its own merits. But it is all the more remarkable because, in four decades, the organization has never lost sight of its roots, which were planted during the civil rights movement of the 1970s.
Thousands of protesters filled the streets of Chinatown in 1975 after the police beating of Peter Yew. Photo by Corky Lee. 4
Confucius Plaza, New York City, 1974. Photo by Corky Lee.
The ideals established during the fight for worker rights at Confucius Plaza in 1974 are still very much alive today. Wendy Takahisa, president of AAFE’s board of directors, says of the founders, “There’s the expression ‘standing on the shoulders of giants,’ but they really were and are giants, who had a vision of how the world ought to be and put a plan into action.” Since that time, AAFE has built and preserved hundreds of affordable apartments, lent hundreds of millions of dollars to firsttime homeowners and small-business owners, worked tirelessly to increase Asian American representation in government at all levels and become a vital resource to New Yorkers in times of great need. Much has changed in 40 years. The organization has thrived because it constantly adapts to current conditions, remaining nimble and creative, always looking for new solutions to vexing problems. Throughout its history, AAFE has been a trailblazer. It was one of the first to
speak up for the Asian American community in Chinatown, the first organization to advance the concept of inclusionary housing in a big city, the first to use the low-income housing tax credit to create affordable housing and the first group to successfully utilize September 11th recovery funds for housing preservation. AAFE’s journey is a uniquely American story. Year by year, the organization has pursued the dream of equality through hard work, determination and ingenuity. A great deal has been accomplished on behalf of Asian Americans and New Yorkers from all walks of life in four decades, yet much work remains. The fact that the mission is as vital today as it was in 1974 is a tribute to the courageous men and women who stood up for equal rights 40 years ago. As Takahisa points out, it is an enduring legacy: “AAFE started, fundamentally, as an organization committed to social justice, and that has not changed in all these years.” 5
1974–1984 MAY 1974: Asian Americans for Equal Employment is instrumental in the first protests at Confucius Plaza in Manhattan’s Chinatown against a builder’s refusal to hire Asian workers. NOVEMBER 1974: In a stunning civil rights victory, an agreement is struck to hire 27 minority workers, Asians among them, at the Confucius Plaza construction project.h MAY 1975: Asian Americans for Equal Employment helps lead a protest at City Hall that attracts 20,000 people, after the beating of Peter Yew by members of the Fifth Precinct in Manhattan’s Chinatown. 1977: The organization changes its name to Asian Americans for Equality, reflecting a broader mission. 1980: AAFE wins compensation for Lincoln Savings depositors after their safe deposit boxes are burglarized. 1981: AAFE launches a new campaign, “Fight Gentrification and Save Chinatown.” 1982: AAFE joins a campaign that galvanizes the Asian American civil rights movement in the wake of the brutal murder of Vincent Chin in Michigan. 1983: In order to stop the Special Manhattan Bridge District, AAFE files a lawsuit against the city.
1984: Transitioning from its all-volunteer model, AAFE becomes a non-profit organization with a fulltime staff.
Speakers denounce discriminatory hiring practices at the Confucius Plaza construction site in 1974. Photo by Corky Lee.
ACTIVISM & ORGANIZING
or Asian Americans for Equality, it all began in the streets of Chinatown in 1974. Moved to action by a developer who refused to hire Asian workers for the massive Confucius Plaza construction project, local activists raised their voices, staged months of protests and finally prevailed. In so doing, they created a powerful grassroots movement that has endured for four decades.
Activists demonstrated against the DeMatteis Corp. in Chinatown in 1974. Photo by Corky Lee.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, tumultuous national and world events were having a profound effect on Manhattan’s Chinatown. After strict immigration quotas were lifted in 1965, a large number of Chinese immigrants poured into the historic neighborhood, remaking the traditional ethnic enclave. Already-difficult living and working conditions— including overcrowding and exploitation by employers — became worse in a community that had always been neglected by City Hall. At the same time, the Asian civil rights movement was gaining momentum, partially inspired by the civil rights campaigns initiated by other ethnic groups in the ‘60s. Many young, idealistic New Yorkers of Chinese descent, some of them radical leftists, began focusing on Chinatown’s many troubling issues and decided the time had come to demand equal rights and equal access to city services. Throughout Chinatown, the injustices at Confucius Plaza were causing great outrage. The DeMatteis Corp., in charge of building
the government-funded project, rejected pleas from the youthful activists, then known as Asian Americans for Equal Employment, to honor the city’s fair-hiring policies. Protests began May 16 and continued to pick up momentum through the fall. Picketers carried signs with slogans such as, “The Asians built the railroad; Why not Confucius Plaza?” Dozens were arrested. While established neighborhood leaders opposed tactics they viewed as militant, the protests had attracted a broad coalition, including older residents and members of other ethnic groups who participated in solidarity with Chinese workers. City Council member Margaret Chin, a former AAFE executive, participated in the demonstrations. “It was new to attend a demonstration with young and old people together,” Chin recalls. “The group of people was really diverse, including both native- and foreign-born people, and Asian Americans of many different backgrounds, not just Chinese.” A June 1 New York Times report noted,
AN AAFE FOUNDER LOOKS BACK ON 1974 A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H LY D I A T O M
ydia Tom was drawn back to Manhattan’s Chinatown, her childhood home, through her activism at City College. One goal of the students in the fledgling Asian American Studies Program on campus was to return to work in their local communities. She became part of a group that began meeting to talk about important issues facing Chinatown. It was not long before the group focused on the Confucius Plaza construction project. “All of us had relatives who worked in construction, had skills,” “Very often in she recalls, “yet there were no workers on immigrant communities the site who were people are just trying Asian.” Fighting for their rights became to hang on and make a priority because it a living and provide was seen as a way to for their families. They secure high-quality jobs for Asians stuck don’t have an ability in low-wage restau- to spend time to voice
rant and garment industry positions. Although young people came up with the idea to pro- [their concerns]. I think test, Tom says their campaign quickly attracted broad support. AAFE has played that “When you look back at the footage,” she notes, “you see people role, to speak for the who worked in the restaurants, the garment factories, in fact, the owners of those shops were cooperative enough to let people go community.” out and walk on the picket lines.” Tom says it quickly became apparent that in order to have an impact, they would have to be arrested. “You had to go in to the work site, actually stand in front of bulldozers and just stop work.” Tom was one of those arrested at Confucius Plaza. She never told her parents about that. “I think about my parents, who are first-generation immigrants,” Tom says. “They came to this country, they didn’t know the language. They just went into jobs where they could get employment, period.” For them, she explains, it was about survival, adding, “I’m the first generation born here. I think it’s people like us who can step back and say, ‘Gee, our parents work really hard as immigrants. They don’t have the same opportunities others do. It was time to fight for the right thing.” In the 1980s Tom came to work at AAFE as a full-time staff member, helping to develop the organization’s affordable housing programs. Today, she’s a senior advisor at Enterprise Community Partners. “Very often in immigrant communities,” Tom says, “people are just trying to hang on and make a living and provide for their families. They don’t have an ability to spend time to voice [their concerns]. I think AAFE has played that role, to speak for the community.” “It is more important than ever to have an organization like AAFE,” Tom says.
CIVIL RIGHTS PROTESTS Activists involved with Asian Americans for Equal Employment helped lead numerous protests in the 1970s. Some of these rallies were directly related to injustices in New York. In other cases, AAFE’s founders marched in solidarity with civil rights activists in other parts of the country.
“The meticulously organized protest, similar to those that have been taking place at sites in black and Latino areas for 11 years in the city, is something new to Chinatown. While residents have often complained of discrimination and short-changing on city services, public protest has been rare.” Reflecting on the dramatic events of 40 years ago, AAFE Executive Director Christopher Kui says protest among New York Asians wasn’t just rare, it was unheard of at that time. “I remember the Asian community was afraid to speak up about issues they faced... lack of access to equal employment or services.”
DeMatteis Corp. eventually relented, agreeing to hire 27 minority workers, Asians among them. It was a major victory for the community and immediately established Asian Americans for Equal Employment as an organization that people could rely on when they had nowhere else to turn. The volunteers established an office in Chinatown, which quickly became a resource center for tenants facing harassment, those encountering immigration issues and workers being mistreated. There were more protests, too, against illegal sweatshops and deplorable conditions in local garment factories. On April 26, 1975, another major con-
A man manisisroughed roughedup upinin Manhattan’s Chinatown during a large to protest the police beating Manhattan’s Chinatown during a large rally rally to protest the police beating of Peter Yew. Photo by Corky Lee. Peter Yew. Photo by Corky Lee.
troversy erupted in Chinatown, enraging the community and once again bringing the issue of civil rights for Asians to the forefront. After a minor traffic accident involving two motorists, one white and one Chinese, a large crowd gathered in front of the Fifth Precinct. As police dispersed the crowd, they confronted a young architectural engineer, Peter Yew, and dragged him inside the precinct, where he was stripped and badly beaten. The incident touched a nerve, bringing long-simmering tensions between the Chinese community and police officers to the surface. Asian Americans for Equal Employment, along with many other local organizations, played a key
role in mobilizing the neighborhood. A rally against police brutality at City Hall brought out 20,000 protesters and forced the closure of most Chinatown businesses. After weeks of public pressure, all charges were dropped against Peter Yew on July 2 and an important message had been delivered to city leaders: the Asian community would no longer be silent. Bill Chong, a former AAFE board president, notes that the protests in the ’70s “created a whole new image of Asians.” “When people saw Asian protesters sitting in front of bulldozers at Confucius Plaza, or bringing 20,000 people to City Hall to protest
police brutality,” he says, it changed the perception that “we were too timid to protest.” Christopher Kui also remembers it as a turning point: “There was a lot of discussion within the community. Some people said ‘Let’s not make trouble... it could hurt our future.’ Others even said ‘This isn’t really our country.’ But a whole new generation had a different view and said ‘This is our country. We have rights. Let’s fight for those rights.’” In 1977, three years after the organization was founded, its name was changed to Asian Americans for Equality to reflect an expanding mission. Leaders reached out to other ethnic groups and joined coalitions involved in important issues both close to home and abroad. AAFE was part of a broad campaign to fight city budget cuts, it helped win the first union contract for workers at a Chinatown restaurant and secured compensation for customers of a local bank after their safe deposit boxes were burglarized. The organization also joined nationwide civil rights actions. Chief among them
was the protest movement that sprung from the brutal murder of Vincent Chin, a 27-yearold engineering student in Michigan who was beaten and killed in June of 1982 by two men who blamed Asians for the loss of auto jobs to Japan. The tragedy was a wake-up call for Asian Americans that galvanized communities and inspired groups such as AAFE to take the fight for justice and equality to a new level. Meanwhile, the situation in New York City remained troublesome. Residents were flocking to AAFE’s community clinics with alarming stories about the state of the neighborhood’s housing stock. Large numbers of people were living in substandard spaces that had been illegally divided. Landlords brazenly ignored building codes and shut off hot water and heat. As surrounding downtown neighborhoods became more desirable, real estate prices soared and property owners sought to evict low-income tenants. In response, AAFE launched a campaign called “Fight Gentrification & Save Chinatown,” which created tenant
LEFT: 1977 Street fair poster by Arlan Huang; BELOW: Voter education campaigns have long been a foundation of AAFE’s work.
associations in many buildings and trained tenant leaders. But as it turned out, an even bigger threat to affordable housing was looming on the horizon. The administration of Mayor Ed Koch quietly pushed through a “Special Manhattan Bridge District,” which encouraged the construction of high-rise luxury condominiums in place of low-income tenements. AAFE and other community organizations quickly mobilized to oppose the scheme. In 1983, the organization filed a class-action lawsuit against the city, AAFE v. Koch, and won an initial legal victory. While the ruling was partially overturned, the court case had the desired effect, largely discouraging developers from exploiting the neighborhood. The innovative legal strategy saved Chinatown from real estate speculators, but it also had a wider impact. Christopher Kui explains: “No one in an urban setting at that time was talking about inclusionary zoning,” a mechanism for creating some affordable units in privately built projects that has become a pillar of New York’s housing strategy. “We used it to fight the Special Manhattan District,” he says. “It got statewide attention. Courts ruled that the city had an obligation to zone for the benefit of everyone, not just property owners.” In these years, there was a growing realization that the immense challenges facing Chinatown could not be effectively addressed by an all-volunteer organization. In 1983, Doris Koo became AAFE’s first executive director, and a plan was put in motion to become a non-profit organization and hire a full-time professional staff. In the aftermath of AAFE v. Koch, it became clear that the fight for affordable housing would define Asian Americans for Equality in the years ahead. A tragic 1985 fire on Eldridge Street accelerated the organization’s push into housing development. But throughout the years, AAFE never lost
TOP: Community meeting in Chinatown in 1981; CENTER: Mayor Ed Koch on a walking tour of Chinatown in 1981. (Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives) BOTTOM: AAFE’s first executive director, 13 Doris Koo, at the opening of Friendship House.
sight of its roots in social justice and commu- politicized. The time has come.” nity advocacy. After a contentious debate, the proposal Looking back on this period, Doris Koo was approved by the Redistricting Commission, observes that AAFE was changing along with and Margaret Chin, an AAFE founder and forthe country, adapting to the post-protest era mer board president, entered the Democratic in America. It was “a time to codify the val- primary in the newly formed Council District 1. ues” that had been established in the early While she did not prevail in that election, Chin years and to “put those precious, fragile be- persevered through the years and was finally liefs” into “a foundation for practical work.” victorious in 2010, becoming the first Chinese This meant, among other things, not just ef- American to represent Manhattan’s Chinatown fecting change from the outside but actually and the first Asian woman to serve on the City having a “seat at the Council. table” and helping to “We overcame so shape the city’s future. many obstacles, but the Despite the large final result is victory,” spike in Chinatown’s Chin said during her vicChinese population, tory celebration in Chirelatively few citizens natown, attended by a participated in the pobroad cross section of litical process. There well-wishers, including was, for example, not a State Assembly Speaker single Asian represenSheldon Silver. “For it to tative on the New York finally happen, it is very City Council. So AAFE significant,” Chin assertplaced a great emphaed, adding that the oldA successful redistricting campaign sis on increasing civic er Chinese population, activism among Asian in New York City led Margaret Chin in particular, was finally to run for City Council. She was first Americans — registerheard after being marginelected in 2009 to represent Lower ing voters, educating alized due to language Manhattan. community members and cultural barriers. about important issues There were other and engaging with elected officials, commu- breakthroughs for Asians in that election. John nity boards and other organizations. Liu, having already served on the City CounAs the decade wound down and the 1990 cil since 2001, was poised to become the first U.S. Census approached, AAFE recognized it Asian to win citywide office in New York as city as a big opportunity to change the political comptroller. In Flushing, Queens, Peter Koo dynamic. The organization formulated a re- was on his way to winning a council seat. More districting proposal, one that would give an victories followed. In 2012, Grace Meng beAsian American candidate a fighting chance came the first Asian American congressional of winning a seat on the council, represent- representative from New York, and Ron Kim ing Chinatown and other Lower Manhattan was elected to the State Legislature, becoming neighborhoods. the first Korean American in that body. In 1991, Koo told the New York Times, Christopher Kui calls AAFE’s campaign to “We are the last group to get energized and increase Asian representation a keystone ac14
complishment. The founders, he says, “knew that unless we had our own representatives we would never be able to pursue the dream of equality and justice for the community.” But, he adds, there’s still much work to be done. Asians now make up 13 percent of the city’s population, yet elected representation at all levels of government continues to lag. “So [today] that’s why we expend a lot of resources educating and registering voters. That work is continuing.” In partnership with elected officials, government agencies and other non-profit organizations, AAFE has advocated on a wide range of issues, including immigrant rights, equity in public funding and quality recreational spaces in local communities. One high priority has been the problem of “demolition by neglect,” in which unscrupulous owners of rent-regulated buildings seek to drive low-income tenants from their homes. AAFE authored a 2011 research report on the subject, highlighting some of the worst offenders and laying out policy solutions. In 2009, AAFE was on the scene of a fire in Manhattan’s Chinatown, at 22 James St., which left three people dead and many others injured. After dealing with the immediate crisis, AAFE worked to prevent the demolition of the tenement by organizing the tenants and keeping pressure on the owner to make repairs. A year later, Assembly
Photo credit: William Alatriste
TOP: Margaret Chin and Peter Koo joined the New York City Council in 2010. MIDDLE: John Liu served on the City Council before winning election as New York City comptroller. BOTTOM: Grace Meng was elected to the U.S. Congress in 2012.
Speaker Sheldon Silver, City Council member Margaret Chin and Asian Americans for Equality were there to welcome the residents home. In 2010, an even larger fire swept through almost a full block of Grand Street, displacing hundreds of residents. AAFE took the landlord of one of those buildings to court, after the owner insisted demolition was the only option. A judge ruled in favor of the tenants, and three years later they, too, moved back to their affordable apartments. Speaker Silver, who partnered with AAFE and city housing officials on the effort,
AAFE outreach programs reach 20,000 New Yorkers each year, covering topics such as renewing entitlement benefits and preventing evictions.
A devastating fire swept across Grand Street in 2010. Photo by Bill Tompkins 16
TOP: Protesters at Confucius Plaza in 1974. (Photo by Corky Lee.) BOTTOM: AAFE led protests of the Wyndham Garden Chinatown in 2012 and 2013.
called it “a great victory for those of us who have fought for the preservation of affordable housing in Chinatown and throughout our city.” Through the decades, AAFE has stayed focused on ensuring equality for all. Even today, as the organization works hand-in-hand with government agencies and manages a large housing portfolio, it remains mindful of its roots. That’s not to say AAFE’s strategies have stayed the same. They have, indeed, changed to reflect the times. As the 1990s drew to a close, the organization increased its outreach to a wide array of Asian groups, forming coalitions to meet the needs of rapidly growing constituencies. In the year 2000, AAFE created Chhaya Community Development Corporation to advocate for the housing needs of New York’s South Asian community. A year earlier, AAFE formed the
National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development. It was the first group dedicated to addressing the housing, community and economic development needs of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities across the country. Through these alliances, AAFE built on the founders’ determination to create a truly panAsian organization, while fostering the dreams and aspirations of an increasingly diverse community. Christopher Kui concludes, “Today we are able to work with a broader strata of people throughout the city, building coalitions, talking to legislators and then going out and making policy changes. So it’s not just organizing direct action, but it’s really using protest as part of the strategy tool kit, but at the same time putting forth potential positive solutions.”
A scene from Chhaya CDC’s annual community celebration.
AAFEâ€™s Douglas Nam Le helps lead a protest against a Manhattan hotel developer.
1985–1995 1985: AAFE responds to a deadly fire at 54 Eldridge St., an event that would lead to the organization’s first affordable housing ventures. 1986: AAFE protests the closing of the Golden Pacific Bank, ultimately winning $10 million for depositors.
1988: Equality House opens on Eldridge Street, a result of AAFE’s pioneering use of the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.
1989: The Manhattan Neighborhood Renaissance Development Corp. is founded, AAFE’s first economic development affiliate.
1990: A survey of Chinatown banks identifies a woeful lack of investment in the community by local financial institutions.
1991: AAFE representatives testify at New York City redistricting hearings.
1992: Clinton/Peace Houses open, including 22 apartments for low-income families and seniors.
1992: AAFE completes Friendship Houses, a rehabilitation project consisting of 49 rental units. 1994: A comprehensive housing survey of 200 households is conducted, documenting overcrowding.
Residents return home to refurbished apartments after another devastating fire in Chinatown, this time on Elizabeth Street.
DEVELOPING AFFORDABLE HOUSING
n the bitterly cold evening of January 21, 1985, the residents of 54 Eldridge St. were forced to rely on portable electric heaters because the building had no centralized heat or hot water. That night, the strain on the old wiring in the dilapidated tenement was too much, and a fire started. It spread quickly, destroying the building. Tragically, two elderly tenants were killed and 125 left homeless. During its first 10 years serving Chinatown, Asian Americans for Equality had witnessed numerous instances of terrible housing conditions throughout the neighborhood. Its focus on tenant organizing, fighting illegal landlord practices and educating people about their rights 21 21
Throughout the years, AAFE has vigorously fought against deplorable living conditions throughout New York. Photos by Annie Ling.
had made a significant difference. But the awful events on Eldridge Street that night showed very clearly that those early efforts would not be sufficient. In order to make greater strides, AAFE would need to find a way to create new housing options. In that moment, there was no grand plan to become an affordable housing developer. The Red Cross had called AAFE in to help deal with the emergency situation. Executive Director Christopher Kui recalls, ‘’We worked with the city to place people in shelters, but a lot of folks wouldn’t go because the shelters were in terrible condition, or they couldn’t communicate and didn’t want to leave Chinatown.’’ So the organization, very often at its most innovative during a crisis, came up with a solution for the future: build a new downtown shelter. But reaching that goal during the presidency of Ronald Reagan would be a challenge. Homelessness was a big issue. There was virtually no public funding available for a temporary facility, and public housing was subject to draconian budget cuts. One new program that had just been introduced, however, provided a unique opportunity.
AAFE acquired two buildings seized by the city—176 and 180 Eldridge St.—and was able to attract financing by utilizing the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. The development, named Equality House, consisted of 59 apartments for low-income and formerly homeless residents. The Enterprise Foundation, an affordable housing pioneer, and Fannie Mae partnered with AAFE for the $5.2 million rehabilitation project. There were setbacks, including another fire that gutted the buildings, but the organization persevered. Equality House became a national model. Bill Frey, an Enterprise Foundation executive, called it a breakthrough project. ‘’[Equality House] became the model that really has provided the initial way for us to do this around [New York City].” It was the first, but certainly not the last, time Asian Americans for Equality created a widely emulated affordable housing strategy. Years later, Jerilyn Perine, a former commissioner of New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said, ‘’They’ve been willing to take risks with us on new program models, and it has sometimes 22
AFFORDABLE HOUSING FUNDERS TRUST AAFE A CONVERSATION WITH TWO VALUED PARTNERS
ne of the best ways to understand AAFE’s impact in shaping affordable housing policy during the past 40 years is to talk with the organization’s longtime financial supporters. Bill Frey, a towering figure in the affordable housing community, has been a key executive at Enterprise Community Partners for many years. Frey provided crucial advice and support, including capital, to build AAFE’s first affordable-housing project in the 1980s—and he has been a staunch supporter ever since. In 1987, not long after Enterprise opened a New York office, AAFE Executive Director Doris Koo sought Frey out, and together they pioneered the use of the Low Income Tax Credit to fund affordable housing. It became a prototype for other non-profit organizations in New York City to rehabilitate distressed buildings. Looking back, Frey says AAFE demonstrated an ability to manage complex projects and to work with government agencies and other partners. Equality House, he says, set the stage for the organization to “become quite a force in affordable housing preservation.” Since that first project, AAFE and Enterprise have partnered on several more initiatives. Frey says one of the things that has always impressed him the most is the organization’s ability to build off its successes. Housing preservation, new development and job creation have all been part of the mix. AAFE, he says, is particularly adept at creating mixed income communities and has maintained credibility through the years because it has never lost sight of that goal. “There’s no question,” he says, “that AAFE is perceived as one of the premier community development organizations in New York City.” Another primary funder in recent years has been the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF), an organization dedicated to providing new opportunities in very low income communities. It helped AAFE finance the rehabilitation of a low income cooperative at 244 Elizabeth St. in Manhattan, backed a $250,000 grant for economic development in Flushing, Queens and extended several other loans for AAFE’s work in New York neighborhoods. Hannah Blitzer, an executive with the Low Income Investment Fund, says AAFE has what any lender looks for but sometimes struggles to find: “a solid track record of seeing projects through to their conclusion and great management.” Financial backers, as well as city housing officials, turn to AAFE, she says, for its experience working directly with tenants as well as for the organization’s knowledge of the marketplace. “AAFE brings a lot of skills to the table,” she says.
Bill Frey of Enterprise Community Partners
AAFE joined NYC officials to begin a rehabilitation project at 244 Elizabeth St. in Manhattan.
LEFT: Architectural renderings for the Norfolk I project. THIS PAGE, RIGHT: AAFE restoration project on Clinton Street. FACING PAGE, LEFT: State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver with Christopher Kui and a resident at renovated James Street apartment building. FACING PAGE, RIGHT: Doris Koo, middle, with Margaret Chin and Bill Chong in front of Equality House in 1986. .
made their work much tougher because they went first... [But] the fact that they’ve been willing to do that has been really helpful.” In the years following the Equality House triumph, AAFE acquired and renovated more buildings in Chinatown and on the Lower East Side, providing desperately needed housing for low-income tenants and seniors. Projects such as Clinton/Peace Houses, which created 22 apartments in two formerly city-owned buildings upon opening in 1992, attracted thousands of rental applications. AAFE emphasized reaching out to a broad range of ethnic and racial groups with the aim of operating buildings that reflected the diversity of the local community. As each building conversion was completed, government agencies and funders became increasingly confident in AAFE’s abilities as an adept not-for-
profit developer. By 1997, 11 buildings had been rehabilitated and AAFE was managing 200 apartments. That year, a non-profit developer on the Lower East Side known as Pueblo Nuevo became mired in scandal and abruptly went out of business. AAFE was asked to take over work on nine buildings the group had been renovating and successfully got the project back on track. Its management of the difficult situation further embellished the organization’s reputation and led the Fannie Mae association to present AAFE with the prestigious Maxwell Award of Excellence. In 1998, the initial phase of the organization’s first-ever new construction project, Norfolk Apartments, opened to renters. The seven-story building created 24 low-income units and a ground-floor community space. It was support24
AAFE HAS DEVELOPED AND PRESERVED MORE THAN 700 units of affordable housing since 1995. ed by the New York State Housing Trust Fund, federal low-income housing tax credits and the Enterprise Social Investment Corporation. “Norfolk Apartments II,” the second, more extensive phase, added 54 apartments for working families and seniors in new buildings on three additional parcels on Norfolk and Stanton streets. The September 11th terrorist attacks threatened the project, but AAFE was determined to show its resolve and proceed, in spite of the obstacles. Construction began in January 2002. When the lottery opened for apartments, the response was overwhelming. Frank Lang, former director of planning and development, said, “I feel very proud that we broke ground just a few months after the disaster... It sent an important message that we would be there, no matter what, to help the future of this neighborhood.”
From the ashes of 9/11, opportunities to help the hard-hit neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan emerged. The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. established a $16 million fund to acquire and preserve affordable apartments in Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Through this program, AAFE was able to purchase privately owned buildings, renovate more than 130 apartments and assure their place in New York’s rent stabilization program for years to come. At 191 Madison St., for example, AAFE purchased a rundown tenement for $2.8 million and proceeded with a gut renovation. The organization is now working to replicate the preservation program throughout the city, beginning in Flushing, where it has purchased two buildings with 60 units. This particular revitalization initiative in 25
TOP: Equality House, before and after renovations. CENTER: AAFE oversees the renovation of a New York City home, including installation of new appliances. BOTTOM: AAFE Board President Wendy Takahisa with Assembly member Ron Kim and Executive Director Christopher Kui.
Queens is new, but AAFE’s commitment to serving the rapidly-growing Asian populations in Flushing and other communities spans nearly 20 years. It was a significant moment in 1996 when the organization opened its Flushing office. The facility quickly became a vital resource center to address critical housing issues in the fast growing and gentrifying neighborhood. Local residents were offered outreach programs, education initiatives and direct counseling services. AAFE’s pan-Asian approach was especially well suited in Queens, where Chinese, Korean and South Asian communities were all transforming. In the years that followed, AAFE expanded its Queens operations beyond housing, becoming one of the largest community development organizations in Flushing. Meanwhile, new opportunities continued to present themselves in Manhattan. In 2013, AAFE became the first non-profit organization to partner with the city in a new program that seeks to redevelop distressed properties as low-income cooperatives. The $3.9 million project, located on Elizabeth Street, could become a model for future building conversions, utilizing what is known as the Affordable Neighborhood Cooperative Program. AAFE Board President Wendy Takahisa says it’s a perfect example of the organization’s willingness to tackle new challenges. “It’s a tough program,” she explains. “There haven’t been a lot of groups willing to take it on. It requires tenant organizing. A tenant cooperative is a very difficult structure. You need to line up financing. But I think there’s a good chance it will be a successful building because AAFE has the necessary skills to make it work.” Homeownership has, of course, long been integral to the American dream. It’s particularly important to immigrants as they begin to establish roots and develop a sense of belonging in their new country. In the late 1990s, AAFE seized a unique opportunity, building 48 townhouse-style condominium units on Suffolk Street on the Lower East Side. This project created homeownership 26
opportunities for working families, but it was only a small part of AAFE’s overall strategy to help low- and middle-income families across the five boroughs of New York City purchase their first homes. AAFE Executive Director Christopher Kui explains, “We saw that there was a need to help people secure financing for their own homes, so we got involved in direct lending and in mortgage counseling.” Since the year 2000, AAFE’s Community Development Fund has facilitated nearly $300 million in mortgage financing for approximately 2,000 low- to moderate-income immigrant and minority homebuyers. It also has overseen the rehabilitation of more than 40 single-family homes throughout New York. In 2012, the community development fund was approved for membership in the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, increasing its ability to facilitate loans for minority, immigrant, low- and moderate-income, and underserved communities. In these communities, residents aspiring to buy their first homes face a range of obstacles, including low credit scores, a lack of job stability, the absence of equity and insufficient knowledge regarding the inner workings of the American AAFE has helped 2,000 families secure $300 million banking and real estate industries. A foundation of AAFE’s in home loans. homeownership program is consumer education. Through regularly scheduled workshops and one-on-one counseling sessions, multilingual staff members show prospective purchasers how to improve their creditworthiness, manage household budgets, apply for mortgages and access funds for down payments and other fees. The education programs are meant to create borrowing-ready clients who are prepared to acquire home loans but—just as important—have the acumen to meet their financial obligations over time. Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, AAFE responded with emergency support for homeowners in many hard-hit neighborhoods in Manhattan, as well as devastated Brooklyn communities in Coney Island, the Rockaways and other locations. Even under normal circumstances, the types of clients AAFE serves have trouble borrowing money for home improvement projects. They often need small loans, often less than $30,000, which have become difficult to secure from conventional lenders in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse. After Super27
storm Sandy, AAFE came to the aid of many homeowners, providing more than $1 million during a 12-month period for emergency repairs. The Community Development Fund has continued to provide Sandy-related loans — not only in traditional Asian neighborhoods such as Sunset Park, Brooklyn but also on Staten Island and other hard-hit areas in which AAFE previously had little presence. Today, approximately 40 percent of those receiving assistance are Latino or African American. The organization has provided a range of services, helping homeowners hire contractors, develop work plans, install energy-efficient appliances and avoid foreclosure proceedings. “The Asian community has grown beyond the traditional Chinatown communities,” Christopher Kui says, “and AAFE saw itself as a very neighborhood-based organization. It’s a placebased approach, but at the same time it is people-based. As the population has grown, Asian immigrants settled in many different areas, and we grew with them.” Asked what is behind the organization’s success as a non-profit housing developer, Kui points to the affordable housing void in the 1980s and 1990s, when the private developers in today’s industry did not exist. “We saw a need to preserve and to build apartments or to help people get the financing to buy their own homes. We got involved in mortgage counseling, to help people see they could live in neighborhoods beyond the traditional Asian enclaves. It’s happened because we were flexible and nimble.”
Eva Shure had a creative idea, but she needed someone to believe in her vision. Thanks to Renaissance, she was able to create a solid business plan and secure seed money for Red Carpet Kids, an events company that throws film-themed birthday parties children never forget. Shure says, “They truly are our angels for the business... [The loan] made all the difference in the world.”
AAFE’s Siu-Kwan Chan helps distribute food at the organization’s Equality House headquarters in the late 1980’s.
1995–2004 1995: The organization helps secure $6 million in mortgage financing in partnership with the New York Mortgage Coalition, Fannie Mae and HUD. 1996: Utilizing a HUD grant, the AAFE Housing Center is established in Queens to assist tenants facing discrimination. 1997: AAFE’s Renaissance Economic Development Corp. becomes a community development financial institution certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 1997: AAFE helps residents displaced by a fire at 30 Allen St. 1998: The initial phase of Norfolk Houses, AAFE’s first new development project, is completed. 2000: AAFE’s homeownership department qualifies for status as a community development financial institution.
Chinatown banks identifies a woeful lack of invest2000: Suffolk Houses, a homeownership complex, opens on the Lower East Side. SEPT. 11, 2001: AAFE responds to World Trade Center terrorist attacks, staffing disaster centers, serving as translators and coordinating emergency aid. SEPT. 21, 2001: AAFE launches a 9/11 emergency fund designed to help economically distressed Chinatown businesses. JANUARY 2002: The second phase of the Norfolk Street development project begins, in spite of hurdles created by 9/11. 2002: Rebuild Chinatown Initiative is launched to help the neighborhood recover from 9/11. s throughout
2004: Rebuild Chinatown plan is unveiled publicly. Chinatown plan is
CREATING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
he terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, sent the Lower Manhattan community reeling. Asian Americans for Equality, headquartered just a few blocks from ground zero, was in a unique position to help New York cope with the unprecedented crisis and to lead the devastated Chinatown community in its aftermath. With AAFEâ€™s 27 years of serving the neighborhood, it was only natural that emergency agencies turned to AAFE for its expertise and deep understanding of the local community. The evening of 9/11, staff members worked inside disaster centers and, in the days following the attacks, helped frightened immigrant residents apply for government aid. As the immediate crisis passed, 3131
LEFT: People line up to attend an AAFE workshop regarding the residential grant program in 2002. RIGHT: “The Rebuild Chinatown Initiative” helped fearful residents rebound following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
AAFE was the driving force behind a multifaceted campaign to inject Chinatown’s businesses with desperately needed capital and to create a comprehensive plan for the neighborhood’s future. This monumental effort was spearheaded by Renaissance Economic Development Corp., an entity created by AAFE to support fledgling small businesses and to provide economic opportunity for new immigrants throughout New York. Four years before the September 11th attacks, Renaissance had become a community development financial institution, certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. While it had been empowering entrepreneurs for several years and making a significant impact, the 9/11 tragedy was a defining moment for Renaissance and AAFE as a whole. “It was definitely a very proud moment for AAFE,” says Executive Director Christopher Kui. Federal emergency management staff,
he explains, “didn’t have the language skills, they didn’t understand the community when they were shaping programs. AAFE was able to rise to the occasion mostly because we had been in the community for many years and we had already been providing assistance to small businesses in the area. City, state and federal agencies sought us out.” Historically, AAFE’s first impulse has always been to act swiftly when there are pressing community needs. It was no different following 9/11. Rather than waiting for help to arrive, Renaissance took the step on September 21 of creating a $150,000 emergency loan fund for struggling small businesses by diverting money from its operating budget. While the initial amount was relatively small, it was an important step in demonstrating to government officials that the community had an acute need for direct financial assistance. Early on, they were preoccupied with the immediate
ON THE FRONT LINES IN TIMES OF CRISIS TOP: Students at Stuyvesant High School were evacuated after the September 11 attacks. Credit: John Houston, Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA Collection). BOTTOM: AAFE staff members deliver relief supplies via bicycle in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy: World Journal.
area around ground zero and largely overlooked Chinatown. The neighborhood was barricaded, utilities were cut off, and businesses, many of them largely dependent on tourism, were suffering. Eventually, 7,700 jobs would be lost, and Chinatown’s already hobbled garment industry would be decimated. In the months that followed, AAFE secured more money and closed 150 loans. Later the organization worked with the Empire State Development Corp. to distribute $15 million in loans. Corporate and foundation money eventually started to trickle in, bolstering efforts to stabilize the local economy. City and state leaders ultimately showed their confidence in AAFE as a community partner by asking it to be a main administrator of the $300 million Residential Grant Program from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. In 2002, AAFE launched the Rebuild Chinatown Initiative, a community-driven project to create a blueprint for the revival of the neighborhood. The two-year process, which included extensive outreach across Chinatown, laid out short- and long-term programs to jump-start economic life and to address long-standing problems, such as sanitation, transportation and, of course, affordable housing. Among its specific accomplishments were the revitalization of the Allen and Pike Street pedestrian malls and the establishment of the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corp. to support small business and keep the neighborhood clean. Through Rebuild Chinatown’s recommendations, approximately $100 million was invested by public and private funders to strengthen Chinatown. In 2004, the project received the Meritorious Achievement Award from the New York Metro chapter of the American Planning Association. While AAFE’s economic development activities accelerated greatly in the years after 2001, fostering entrepreneurship had been a longtime priority.
Since its founding, Renaissance Economic Development Corp. has made more than 1,000 loans totaling over $36 million in capital.
ABOVE: The Small Business Administration awarded Renaissance $100,000 to provide training to small businesses in 2014. The check was presented to Christopher Kui by SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, with the help of U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.
FACING PAGE, TOP: Renaissance is focused on helping small businesses, including those along Mott Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown. MIDDLE: Christopher Kui at AAFE headquarters. BOTTOM: Chinese-language coverage of Flushing programs.
In the insular world of Chinatown, language difficulties, cultural barriers and a lack of familiarity with the American financial system prevented many immigrant business owners from acquiring capital. The organization, seeking money for affordable housing projects, experienced rejection from banks located in the neighborhood. AAFE’s first housing project was turned down by 15 banks. So the organization conducted a survey and found that, between 1988 and 1990, 33 Chinatown banks were sitting on $3 billion in deposits. Doris Koo, executive director in these years, argued that community residents who placed their hard-earned wages in those banks had a right to access their capital. “They are the first generation of immigrants who said we will sacrifice so our children will have a better future,” Koo maintained. “All that hard work, all that sweat that went into the sweatshops and restaurants goes right into a bank account.” To make its case, AAFE utilized the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, which was meant to encourage banks to offer credit in communities they served. Eventually several banks agreed to offer credit to Chinatown small-business customers. This victory set the stage for the creation of AAFE’s first economic development affiliate, which was founded as the 1980s drew to a close, and the Chinatown neighborhood, especially its tourist-dependent businesses, suffered through a brutal economic downturn. The new non-profit organization became a qualified Community Development Financial Institution in 1998. Since that time, it has provided more than $36 million in affordable loans to over one-thousand small businesses. Targeted at diverse communities, the organization offers much-needed financing for small firms to grow their existing services or products, or to launch new ventures. The focus is on relieving the credit crunch for women, immigrants and minority entrepreneurs. Services provided help overcome language and cultural barriers, opening doors for innovation. In 2012 alone, Renaissance facilitated nearly $5 million in loans, creating 137 jobs.
Photo by KimOlsonPhoto.com.
Loans of up to $100,000 can be used for the purchase of supplies, inventory, equipment or for renovations of commercial real estate. There are programs focused on emerging and developing communities such as Sunset Park, Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, as well as Flushing in Queens and communities throughout New York City. Renaissance is one of the nation’s top producers of micro-loans from the Small Business Administration. It also provides training and expert advice to business owners on topics such as obtaining patents, franchising, improving sales, launching marketing campaigns and management. There’s a 12-week intensive training program for first-time owners, which draws on the expertise of representatives from the IRS, financial institutions and law firms. Community development is an important tool used by Renaissance to make neighbor-
hoods stronger — both culturally and economically. In 2012, it won approval for the redevelopment of Forsyth Plaza, a long-neglected space alongside the Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown. In partnership with the New York City Parks Department, a space used by produce vendors alongside the bridge and an elevated parcel are being transformed into a recreational space and community gathering spot. A centerpiece of the elevated park will be a permanent exhibition by well-known Chinese artist Xu Bing. AAFE has a long history of providing assistance wherever it is needed in the five boroughs of New York City, including in the large Asian communities of Flushing, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn. In 2011, it made an even bigger commitment, creating One Flushing, a community-based economic development center. The center’s mission is to support
Making a CHIKA CHAN
ABOVE: AAFE has a significant presence in Flushing, Queens, where it helps advocate for the community and works to increase housing and job opportunities.
wanted to raise Make-Up Pro, her cosmetics arts school based in Manhattan’s Chinatown, to the next level. But conventional lenders did not want to take a chance on her business. Chan turned to AAFE, which helped her with a loan to grow the company. She moved into a new location, and now has more than 200 students and has launched her own cosmetics brand. “Without the loan from AAFE,” she says, “we couldn’t have grown so fast.”
FOSTERING SMALL BUSINESS & PROMOTING COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT TOP LEFT: A bustling street scene in Flushing, Queens; TOP RIGHT: Rendering shows Forsyth Plaza park design in Manhattan; BOTTOM LEFT: Mott Street shoppers in Manhattan; BOTTOM RIGHT: Manhattan Chinatown’s restaurant row.
new and established businesses with a range of services, including financial support and technical assistance. It’s also focused on bolstering the Flushing community, a growing economic hub, and attracting new investment to the region. In recognition of AAFE’s track record in the community, the city in 2014 called on the organization to administer a $2.5 million smallbusiness assistance fund to cushion the impact of Flushing Commons, a new billion-dollar commercial development project. In 2008, AAFE became a member of NeighborWorks
America, one of the country’s most respected community development and affordable housing organizations. Chartered by the United States Congress, NeighborWorks’ board includes some of the federal government’s key finance and housing decision makers. As part of the nationwide network, AAFE’s programs have received important funding, but, even more significant, NeighborWorks has provided invaluable training and technical assistance, helping AAFE better serve its communities. There was another major milestone in 2011, 37
AAFE kicked off rehabilitation of a federal complex in Kansas City, the organization’s first development initiative outside New York.
Renaissance Economic Development Corp. has distributed more than $6 million in recovery loans to businesses hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.
as AAFE launched its first development project outside New York. The organization purchased a blighted and abandoned former federal complex on an 18-acre site in Kansas City, Missouri. Plans for the six-building complex, encompassing 570,000 square feet, include an organic produce market that would create a vibrant community gathering place that would invigorate Northeast Kansas City’s economy. In Kansas City, AAFE is creating a model for large-scale, industrial-type sites that can be replicated to revitalize other cities across the country. Poised to enter its 39th year, AAFE reprised a familiar role — that of first responder in an emergency situation. In October 2012, staff members scrambled to help deal with the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy. Hours after the storm came ashore, they were knocking on doors throughout Lower Manhattan, delivering food and medicine to the homebound and assisting in cleanup efforts on the Lower East Side, as well as in the hard-hit communities of Brooklyn and the Rockaways. Once again, AAFE was there, on the ground, long before government agencies could mobilize. Board President Wendy Takahisa says, “AAFE was really able to play a major role in helping people throughout the city both in neighborhoods in which people woke up and realized they had an Asian American population that they maybe never noticed, that had been flying under the radar, 38
but even in the broader community, helping in the Rockaways and Coney Island, where there was a lot of need, and AAFE brings a lot of expertise.” Renaissance came to the rescue, too, activating two emergency loan programs for impacted businesses as well as homeowners. The first loan checks were cut just two days after the disaster. AAFE distributed $3 million in emergency loans to hundreds of small businesses in the first few weeks. No other entity was able to get funds directly out to local small-business owners so swiftly. AAFE’s Christopher Kui recalls, “Small businesses, in particular, were especially impacted by the loss of sales. Restaurants, for example, lost their entire inventories. Wholesale businesses and warehouses on the waterfront flooded. A low-interest loan of $30,000 made a big difference for these small businesses that needed immediate assistance.” The organization’s economic development programs have served as an essential safety net in times of crisis. Kui says, “AAFE has become very much a model of a social firehouse. We are in the community. We can respond in times of emergency.”
Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters swamped Lower Manhattan in 2012. Photo: Virginia Jones
Making a Michael Lam’s umbrella-manufacturing company was devastated after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Located in the World Trade Center complex, the company lost its computer records and profits sank. But AAFE’s Renaissance Economic Development Corp. came through with support and financial assistance, including a low-interest $150,000 loan. Lam says, “Now we’re here getting better and better... Our product is on the street.”
2005–2014 2008: AAFE becomes a charter member of NeighborWorks. 2009: AAFE responds to a deadly fire at 22 James St., aiding residents. 2009: Residents of 128 Hester St. are evacuated after their building was declared unsafe; AAFE advocates for their rights. 2009: Margaret Chin becomes the first Chinese American to represent Manhattan’s Chinatown on the City Council. 2010: AAFE responds to the devastating Grand Street fire, which leaves hundreds without homes. 2011: One Flushing is founded to bolster small business in Queens.
2011: “Justice for Chinatown” campaign is launched to advocate for Hester Street residents. 2011: AAFE acquires a former federal complex in Kansas City, launching the first redevelopment project outside New York City. 2012: Asian Americans For Equality Community Development Fund, Inc. (AAFE) is approved for membership in the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York. 2013: AAFE responds to Hurricane Sandy, helping with emergency food deliveries, cleanup and launching small-business and home loan products. 2013: AAFE begins rehabilitation of Elizabeth Street building through the Affordable Neighborhood Cooperative Program, a new city initiative. 2014: AAFE is asked to administer a $2.5 million business aid package as part of Flushing Commons project.
ENRICHING OUR COMMUNITIES
sian Americans for Equality has a reputation for pioneering big ideas and overseeing complex development projects. But oftentimes, at the community level, some of the simplest initiatives have the greatest impact. Maybe it’s leading high school students on a college tour. It could be showing a child how to ride a bike as part of the “Local Spokes” coalition that AAFE helps lead. Perhaps it’s a computer literacy tutorial for a senior citizen. Almost since its earliest days, the organization has placed a high value on empowering its communities through education, training and engagement in New York City’s neighborhoods. 4141
AAFECare senior center staff and real estate management staff gather on Norfolk Street in Manhattan.
Wendy Takahisa, president of AAFE’s board of directors, is proud of the organization’s accomplishments as an affordable-housing builder and as a small-business lender. But, she says, the “brick-and-mortar community development has to go hand-in-hand with community building. It comes with being a community quarterback.” That means helping natural leaders within the community to find their own voices, to galvanize their friends and neighbors behind a cause and to become their own best advocates. This role of “community quarterback” takes on many different forms. AAFE helps people secure their entitlement benefits. The organization became a federal health-care navigator, guiding residents through Obamacare. Staff members coordinate voter-registration drives and offer youth leadership and adult leadership programs; they organize trips to Albany to advocate for important issues with state legislators. Takahisa explains, “There is a big role for building leadership, and I think some of the most exciting things I have seen done at AAFE are in this area.”
Cultivating leadership is not a new phenomenon for AAFE. In the 1970s, tenant organizing workshops were held in Chinatown to educate people about their rights. It’s still an important advocacy tool today, often making it possible for residents to stay in their homes against all odds. Today, however, community building at AAFE is remarkably diverse, encompassing a wide range of advocacy, empowerment and education initiatives. At Flushing High School, for example, AAFE has made a long-term commitment to helping students fulfill their dreams of going to college. In many cases, these young people are the first members of their families to pursue higher education. AAFE’s programs are focused on college readiness, financial aid and parent engagement. Students from Flushing High School, as well as Flushing International High School and Lower East Side Prep in Manhattan, have the opportunity to visit college campuses and to stay overnight. Workshops cover such topics as the college application process, writing personal statements, budgeting, stress 42
management and relationship building. For parents, programs encourage involvement in teacher conferences and other school events, and language translation services are provided. Douglas Nam Le, director of policy and leadership development, says AAFE’s college readiness programs are not simply about placing the largest number of students in top flight universities. “Some might get a full ride to MIT,” he says, “but others succeed in their own ways by achieving individual academic goals, often despite challenging circumstances. The programs are aimed at lifting them up.” Another important initiative in local high schools is AAFE’s peer-to-peer counseling program. In partnership with an organization known as “College Access: Research and Action,” young people are trained to help other students prepare their college applications and to apply for financial aid. Youth leaders have trained 600 students, serving as positive role models. In Sara D. Roosevelt Park in Manhattan’s Chinatown, AAFE volunteers routinely take part in
Before she became involved in AAFE’s senior programs, 81-year old Wendy Ge stayed at home most of the time, watching television. Now the retired teacher from Mainland China takes part in Tuesday music sessions, singing both American and Chinese songs. She also attends weekly dance classes. In the past, Ge felt as though she was becoming weaker, but the new activities have put an extra spring in her step. “I’m so happy,” she says. “I’m making so many new friends, [we] laugh and talk.”
BUILDING A BETTER COMMUNITY In 2010, members of AAFEâ€™s Immigrant Youth Leadership Program built a community garden in the courtyard of the organizationâ€™s Norfolk Street building. The community garden was designed by the young people with input from building residents. Today the garden is used daily by participants in AAFECare, an adult day care program, for exercise and relaxation.
“It’s My Park Day,” helping to pick up trash, to pull weeds from gardens and to take part in community-building activities. Through its involvement with the Sara D. Roosevelt Park coalition and neighborhood groups in Queens and Brooklyn, AAFE advocates for more green space and equity in parks funding. Recycling programs, including an initiative encouraging restaurants to properly dispose of cooking oil, build greater environmental awareness. AAFE’s “Go Green Western Queens” project is focused on organizing young people and community residents to promote stewardship of green assets and to conserve energy. In East Harlem, AAFE joined a coalition of elected officials and non-profit organizations to speak out against a series of attacks against Asian residents in 2013. The efforts were focused on ensuring that the police department’s outreach efforts extended to all segments of the community, including non-English speakers. The organization provides a range of personal safety education programs, including fire safety and disaster preparedness workshops. It’s important to recognize that AAFE’s community-based programs do not take place in a vacuum. They are interwoven with the organization’s broad mission to help make the city better for all of its residents. This spirit is on display each year at AAFE’s Community Development Conference. The prestigious event, held at New York University’s Kimmel Center, brings together leaders in community development, government, advocacy, philanthropy and the private sector. The mission is to advance ideas for preserving and enhancing neighborhoods, creating greater economic opportunity and bolstering the Asian American community’s nationwide influence. The conference, as well as many partnerships AAFE has formed across New York, has established the organization as a community development leader. AAFE Executive Director Christopher Kui says, “In working with other minority groups, we see the empowerment of the entire city. We build coalitions with other ethnic and social groups. We want to make sure it’s not about one ethnic group, benefiting only the Asian community.” When it comes to AAFE’s grassroots work, Wendy 45
Members of AAFE’s staff, board and extended family participate in community cleanup days, cultural events and even serve up turkey for Thanksgiving!
Takahisa is reminded of the 1911 poem originating from the union movement in Lawrence, Massachusetts, which made famous the following phrase: “We want bread, but we want roses, too!” She concludes, “I think AAFE has always been about bread, bricks and mortar, you know, people need a place to live. But we are also about how you build a good quality of life.”
YUAN (JULIE) JIN graduated from Flushing High School in June of 2014. When she first joined AAFE’s Immigrant Youth Leadership Program as a high school freshman four years ago, she had recently immigrated and barely spoke English. She continued in the youth program and later applied to be part of another AAFE program, where she became a “Youth Leader for College Access” to motivate and help her peers apply to college. She is attending her first semester at SUNY Buffalo State, studying Dietetics and Nutrition.
AAFE staff members in Manhattan and Flushing, Queens offices .
CHANGING WITH THE TIMES
n the 40 years since Asian Americans For Equality was founded, the country has changed in dramatic ways. There are now more than one million Asian Americans living in New York City. Even more significant, the Asian population is diversifying, reflecting many different nationalities and ethnicities. In the years ahead, AAFE is well positioned to serve this growing community. From the beginning, AAFE’s founders envisioned an organization devoted to equality for all Asians and — even more broadly — committed to justice for all people, regardless of their demographic group.
All of the work in the past four decades—building affordable housing, creating economic opportunity, enriching local communities, fighting for social justice—has been focused on this ideal. Executive Director Christopher Kui explains, “This organization was founded to be very inclusive and democratic and to help the community have rights and access to what they need to grow. We have been able to make our own communities better but also the city as a whole better. I feel very proud of that—the fact that we have been able to make a big impact.” Whether it was the civil rights struggles of the 1970s, the September 11th terrorist attacks or the ongoing affordable housing crisis, Asian Americans for Equality has always adapted to the critical issues of the times. The founders could not have envisioned the broad spectrum of challenges that presented themselves across the decades. But they set forth a vision that has endured and allowed the organization to grow in ways unimaginable in 1974. That foundation will, no doubt, serve the organization well in the decades to come. 51
AAFE BOARD OF DIRECTORS Stephen Davey, Treasurer Jacqueline Huey, Secretary Bomee Jung John Leo Marie Pedraza, Vice President Suki Terada Ports Wendy Takahisa, President Mitchell Wong Po Yuen Christopher Kui, Executive Director
RENAISSANCE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORP. Peggy Chan Ping Dang Christopher Kui, Chairman Raymond Lou, Secretary John Yu Po Yuen
AAFE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT FUND Stephen Davey, Chairman Deborah Johnson Christopher Kui, Secretary Owen Lau Marie Pedraza Mariadele Priest
sian Americans for Equality would like to thank all of the committed staff members, volunteers, funders and friends who have contributed to the organization’s accomplishments during the past 40 years. AAFE thanks New York Community Bank for helping to make the production of this journal possible. The content of this journal represents the opinions of those individuals featured in its pages. The perspectives expressed are solely their own. Content for this journal’s “Making a Difference” vignettes was excerpted from Beyond Activism: Four Decades of Social Justice, a documentary film.
For more information, visit aafe.org.
Celebrating Four Decades of Equality