Monday, February 11, 2013

AAFE: Working for Equal Rights for All

This blog is part of our anniversary celebration series, highlighting NeighborWorks affiliates celebrating milestone years marking either their membership in the network or their incorporation as an organization. Last month, Asian Americans for Equality, Inc. (AAFE) celebrated 5 years as part of the NeighborWorks network. 

By Brittany Hutson, NeighborWorks
America Public Relations fellow
In New York City, the Asian population currently makes up more than 13 percent of the general population, but history has not always been kind to the city’s Asian community. Asian Americans for Equality, Inc. (AAFE) has been working for 35 years to give these residents, and those of all ethnic backgrounds, equal rights and opportunities, especially in the areas of housing and community development.

Christopher Kui, executive director, describes AAFE as a “unique” and “innovative” organization. In the late 1980s, AAFE became the first community development corporation to introduce the low income tax credit in New York City, demonstrating the organization’s willingness to think outside of the box. “We introduced the low income tax credit at a time when no one else did [it] or thought highly of it,” explains Kui. “It was validation that investing in affordable housing benefits everyone in the community,” he says of Equality Houses, two buildings AAFE purchased for temporary and permanent low-income housing.
AAFE's history includes calling attention to the needs of
New York's Chinatown residents

One element of AAFE's work is housing preservation in Chinatown. The organization developed a program with New York City to purchase historical tenement buildings off the private real estate market so that the buildings could be preserved as permanent affordable housing.

Additionally, AAFE has two community development financial institution (CDFI) affiliates: the AAFE Community Development Fund provides first time homebuyers with homeownership counseling and low interest loans; and the Renaissance Economic Development Corporation provides technical assistance and low interest loans to women and minority-owned small businesses.

A Chinatown senior at a Columbus Park beautification project
In between their work with housing, AAFE has also maintained their initial position of serving as a resource when their communities face tragedy and despair. After the September 11th attacks, AAFE initiated the “Rebuild Chinatown Initiative,” a community planning effort that rejuvenated the Chinatown/Lower East Side neighborhood.

Following Superstorm Sandy this past October, AAFE dispersed over 160 emergency repair loans amounting to $3 million to impacted homeowners and small businesses. “The most gratifying part of being at AAFE is seeing how quickly we respond,” says Kui. “AAFE was able to launch this emergency loan program two days after the storm and was able to get funds released quickly to help homeowners and businesses get back on their feet.”

Kui adds that one of the organization’s biggest barriers is helping to educate underserved minorities about their basic rights. “Recent immigrants are scared about bringing up problems they may have due to the language barrier and fear of the government,” he says. “That’s why AAFE’s work is very important because we continue to educate people about their rights, advocate for resources to improve our community, and promote affordable housing.”

In its fifth year as a NeighborWorks member, AAFE not only receives capital from NeighborWorks America but also resources that support the organization’s mission. “NeighborWorks pushes us to be the best organization that we can be,” says Kui.

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