In the News: Challenges Navigating the Housing Process Faced By Asian American and Pacific Islander Families

By: The Office of Housing Counseling, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
 
Overwhelmed by Foreclosure
For Firoza, a mother living in Queens, New York, the foreclosure process was too overwhelming. She wasn’t opening her mail. She wasn’t answering the phone. She wasn’t talking to people. That’s what the stigma and fear of foreclosure did to her. Instead, she quietly went to a private realtor who asked for $2,000 to help her get out of foreclosure. After paying the money, the realtor came back and told her the bank had denied her request.
 
She was working for a driving company that was steadily losing accounts, and her weekly paycheck was getting smaller and smaller. Firoza was really scared. She didn’t know what to do, or if she would be able to keep the house she’d lived in for 10 years with her family. It wasn’t until Firoza was able to connect with a housing counselor at Chhaya CDC that she was able to better understand her options for avoiding foreclosure and was more successfully able to obtain a loan modification and remain in her home.
 
At-Risk of Losing Housing Voucher 
Across the country in San Jose, California, Mrs. Lin, an elderly woman who speaks very little English, was at risk of losing her Section 8 voucher because she was unaware of the exact steps required to change apartments. Instead, Mrs. Lin relied on the advice and misguidance of her new apartment manager. For several months, Mrs. Lin paid her portion of the rent, believing that the Housing Authority was paying the balance.
 
Unfortunately, the new apartment manager never notified the Housing Authority. This resulted in months of unpaid rent, and Mrs. Lin at risk of eviction. Making the situation even worse, the Housing Authority notified Mrs. Lin that her Section 8 voucher was being revoked because she had not followed the correct procedures for moving into her new apartment. Fortunately, a housing counselor at the Asian Law Alliance was able to assist Mrs. Lin to work with the Housing Authority to reinstate Mrs. Lin's Section 8 voucher and with the apartment manager to maintain her housing.
 
Firoza and Mrs. Lin’s experiences are similar to those experienced by many other Asian American and Pacific Islander families that have difficulty navigating the housing process. AAPIs represent 6 percent of the U.S. population and are the fastest growing racial group in the United States − growing 46 percent from 2000 to 2010. Less discussed is the growth of AAPIs living in poverty that now reach over 2 million, growing by over a half million between 2007 and 2011. The AAPI community includes more than 20 different ethnicities speaking over 30 different languages and dialects. 
 
Impact of Limited English Proficiency
AAPIs also have some of the highest rates of households with Limited English Proficiency. Among AAPI households, 32 percent are limited English proficient and experience some difficulty communicating in English, compared to 9 percent of the population as a whole.
 
A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted English proficiency as a significant barrier impacting individual’s ability to conduct everyday financial affairs. Limited English proficiency often led to families receiving mortgages that were unfit for their situation as well as households unable to access opportunities to modify their mortgage or receive the best modification for their situation. The GAO also found that additional efforts were needed to increase access for non-English speakers in the 
Department of Treasury’s Home Affordable Modification Program.
 
Living in High Housing Cost Regions 
Compounding these challenges, AAPI households are disproportionately concentrated in high housing cost regions. They are more likely to have extremely high housing cost burdens and also more likely to be severely impacted by declining house values in the wake of the housing crisis, or completely priced out of homeownership opportunities. 
 
AAPIs also face barriers to a variety of housing opportunities. In a study conducted by HUD on housing discrimination, it was found that AAPIs were 9.8 percent less likely to be told about and 6.8 percent less likely to be shown available rental units compared to whites. The numbers are more dramatic for AAPI homebuyers whom learn about 15.5 percent fewer available homes than equally qualified whites and are shown 18.8 percent fewer homes*.
 
Providing Solutions to AAPI Communities
Fortunately, Firoza and Mrs. Lin were able to connect with local housing counseling organizations with trained counselors that were able to walk them through the loan modification and housing process step-by-step in their own languages. Chhaya CDC and the Asian Law Alliance are among twenty housing counseling organizations that are part of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development. 
 
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*U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, "Housing Discrimination Against Racial and Ethnic Minorities 2012," June 2013.