HomeAsian AmericansNYC Collaborative Aims to Bring AAPI Poverty Out of the Shadows

NYC Collaborative Aims to Bring AAPI Poverty Out of the Shadows

By Stephanie Hoo, AsAmNews Contributor

Expensive new construction may define today’s Flushing, Queens — a majority Asian neighborhood in New York City — yet, nearly one in four residents lives in poverty. 

This poverty is often hidden, its contours unclear. It’s immigrant families doubling up in cramped apartments, a working parent hoping a batch of homemade dumplings is enough food for a week, or elders afraid to go out and apply for benefits amid anti-Asian hate.

“Some folks have said to us: We don’t think that homelessness is a Asian American problem. We don’t see a lot of Asian Americans in the shelters,” said My T. Chang, chief of staff at Asian Americans for Equality, or AAFE. “And so when the city is doing its counting, they’re not able to count those individuals.”

What’s more, people in the community may not identify themselves as poor.

“There are all these pieces of cultural stigma around naming and describing one’s own experiences in poverty,” said Marilla Li, deputy director of Queens community services at the Chinese-American Planning Council. “So we realized that’s really such a strong issue that needs to be addressed in Flushing as a neighborhood.”

A collaborative called Undo Poverty: Flushing, now in its fourth year, has brought together community groups to showcase these stories, reduce stigma, and build ladders out of poverty.

It launched in 2019 with a $1.58 million grant from the Robin Hood Foundation and a four-year timeframe concluding next spring. It has six co-leads: Chinese-American Planning Council, Asian Americans for Equality, MinKwon Center for Community Action, the Child Center of New York, Queens Public Library and River Fund.

Working together “gives us legitimacy and authenticity and validation on a broader level,” said John Park, executive director of MinKwon Center. “The groups who are all involved in Undo Poverty, we’ve been doing this work for a long time. But we’ve been doing it on our own.”

Their work focuses on four key factors: language access, housing, health care, and jobs and meaningful work.

Case management has become streamlined between the groups, combining advocacy work and helping with applications for food aid or housing, said Nara Youn, program coordinator at the Child Center of New York.

“Our major goal was to connect folks, to give them educational outreach and awareness,” she said.

Undo Poverty has also convened community advisory groups of Flushing residents, pushed out surveys and launched a narrative change campaign called “Poverty. It’s not what you think,” featuring billboards and signs at train stations.

And, it recently screened a new documentary called “The Cost of Living,” in association with F.Y. Eye, a social impact media nonprofit, by filmmakers Helena and Daniel Nalladurai of Sixty First Productions, who live in Flushing.

In the film, three Flushing families share their stories. There’s a dad with a young son, paying $900 a month to rent a room in a house. There’s a working mom with bags of retrieved cans piled atop her child’s stroller so she can collect the 5-cent deposits.

“I think there’s a lot of talk about what’s changing and what’s shifting in Flushing,” said Andrea Wilson, programs and creative director at F.Y. Eye. But, it’s one thing to read about poverty rates and another “to really hear the truths of it and hear how people are wrestling with it in their day-to-day lives,” she said.

According to Undo Poverty, poverty in Flushing is a whopping 24 percent above the city average — even as real estate booms.

More than 3,000 new condos were built in Flushing in the 2010s — second only to super-gentrifying Williamsburg, Brooklyn — and the median home sale price in Flushing leapt to $650,000 from $350,000 during the decade, as reported by the New York Times.

City statistics similarly put the poverty rate in the larger area of Flushing and Whitestone at 25 percent. The city says 57 percent of households in Flushing and Whitestone are rent-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

The pandemic made everything worse. People in Flushing had trouble getting stimulus checks and paycheck protection (PPP) loans, even as workers in nail salons and construction had literally no other work.

“When the government is trying to push out money very, very fast or trying to provide relief … what gets left behind is language access,” Park said.

He said MinKwon translated the state unemployment site into Korean three times because it changed three times. The group hired a videographer with money it didn’t have to show people how to apply because it was getting so many calls.

For Asian Americans, “there’s an indifference that we get all the time, and we’ve been fighting for this for forever,” he said.

Undo Poverty is still tallying its total impact, yet its collaborative approach has already won praise. The larger Robin Hood initiative, called Mobility LABs, provided funds to nine neighborhoods across the United States, seeking to spur new solutions in fighting poverty.

“I think Flushing was our strongest community when it came to recognizing that the opportunity that this would be financially was really an opportunity for them to come together and better steward resources that would otherwise be a part of a competition among several different organizations,” said Lori Boozer, director of Mobility LABs.

“And I think the foresight to want to do that was in and of itself a very bold move.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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