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Squeezed By Rents, Stagnant Incomes, Communities Find Solutions: Report

A report released Wednesday details how various communities in the United States have dealt with rising rents and gentrification.
Maxim Coffee House in Boston closed its doors in 2015 after 33 years, due to loss of lease.
Maxim Coffee House in Boston closed its doors in 2015 after 33 years, due to loss of lease.Sahra Vang Nguyen / NBC News

Incomes for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have failed to keep up with the rising cost of living, a troubling trend that has caused displacement, overcrowding, and homelessness for thousands of low-income families, according to a report to be released Wednesday.

Compiled by the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, the report surveyed 15 AAPI and Native Hawaiian neighborhoods across eight states and the District of Columbia. It found, among other things, that tenants and small businesses were most susceptible to being displaced, while some families whose businesses and jobs have served wealthier new residents have fared better economically than low-income AAPIs.

Maxim Coffee House in Boston closed its doors in 2015 after 33 years, due to loss of lease.Sahra Vang Nguyen / NBC News

The findings, drawn mostly from interviews between last May and this February, are particularly salient since many AAPI communities are under threat from steeply rising rents and land values in adjacent high-end neighborhoods, the groups say.

“This report tells the stories of our neighborhoods: most importantly, what people on the ground have been able to achieve by working in the face of massive forces,” Michelle Kauhane, president and CEO of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, said in a statement.

RELATED: Boston's Chinatown Sees Declining Asian Population as Cost of Living Grows

The strategies for dealing with displacement and rising housing costs in AAPI communities have been diverse and innovative, the report shows. In Honolulu, Hawaii, for instance, the Faith Action for Community Equity coalition led tours of an accessory dwelling unit, a self-contained residential structure, made out of a shipping container. The tours sparked discussions about how such units could help alleviate Hawaii’s housing shortage by increasing the number of affordable rental units in one of the most expensive states in the nation, according to the report.

Honolulu’s Bill 20 passed in September, allowing accessory dwelling units to be built in all residential-zoned neighborhoods.

An excerpt of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Anti-Displacement Strategies report showing the renter rate of Asian-American groups.Courtesy of National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development

Long the most affordable living option for new immigrants and seniors in San Francisco, single room occupancy units have dwindled in numbers as more than a million were converted or destroyed from the 1970s to the 1990s to accommodate condominiums and development, the report said. Three out of five families live without leases in these structures and risk eviction, according to the report. Some 74 percent of them are in Chinatown, where one in two residents is AAPI, the report said. An act, known as vacancy decontrol, allows landlords to raise rents when tenants leave, which also incentivizes eviction.

The Chinese Progressive Association of San Francisco partnered with the Chinatown Community Development Center’s SRO Organizing Project to work with families to organize around improving living conditions in these units and fight unjust evictions. To achieve its goals, the Chinese Progressive Association of San Francisco uses a peer organizer model, allowing single room occupancy residents to work part-time on outreach efforts to other families, the report said.

And in Queens, New York, where one in four residents is Asian, Chhaya Community Development Corporation has been working with 32 organizations on an effort to pilot legalizing converted basement units for 100 homes, the report said. Basement units are often among the few affordable housing options for immigrants in New York, according to the report, but they can be dangerous and offer limited means of escape in a fire or emergency.

An excerpt taken from the report showing changes in rent and housing values from 2000 to 2014.

In a Chhaya CDC study of Flushing, Queens, which has one of New York’s largest Asian-American populations, 82 percent of homes were illegally converted, with only 35 percent safe enough to be considered legal, the report said.

Many cities with large AAPI communities across the country face common challenges with housing, the report said, including a shortage of measures to stop displacement of long-time residents, inadequate community engagement processes in government affecting how neighborhoods are planned, and low-income families lacking protections in gentrifying areas.

“We offer these strategies as a beacon of hope when the power of profit-driven development appears insurmountable,” Lisa Hasegawa, executive director of National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, said in a statement. “Our intent is to link together these local efforts to generate a national conversation and to leverage our collective wisdom to shape policies across the country.”

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