This blog post is part of a series highlighting the work of community-based organizations supported through Enterprise New York’s Covid response work in New York State. Read our first blog.

Founded in 1974 to advocate for equal rights, Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) has transformed in the past four decades to become one of New York’s preeminent housing, social service and community development organizations. AAFE is committed to preserving affordable homes throughout New York and to providing new opportunities for the city’s diverse immigrant communities.

Employing innovative approaches, the organization has preserved and developed 86 buildings, creating more than 1,000 affordable homes. It has secured over $400 million in mortgage financing for home buyers and disbursed $30 million in loans to hundreds of small businesses. Through a wide range of multilingual counseling services, AAFE provides education, financial assistance and training to empower people, small businesses and neighborhoods.

AAFE occupies a unique position within the realm of New York City community-based organizations: it is a first responder and service provider for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, who comprise over 1.2 million people in the city. The Covid-19 pandemic began to impact AAPI communities far earlier than other communities due to xenophobia-induced avoidance of Asian-owned businesses and racially targeted assaults.

Additionally, once government aid programs began to roll out, they were not widely accessible to those speaking Asian languages. AAFE had to immediately mobilize to assist their clients with applying for unemployment, translating government eviction directives and stimulus check information, accessing mortgage forbearance, and applying for small business loans and other local relief programs.

On top of the racist discrimination targeting its focus community, AAFE dealt with all of the other immediate issues seen across the city. Within the communities it serves, AAFE witnessed a huge increase in the number of jobs lost, small businesses driven to closure or forced to lay off most of their employees, and cases of landlord harassment, not to mention an increasingly quick spread of Covid-19 due to the high number of intergenerational households and others crowded together in small homes to afford NYC’s high rents.

Meanwhile, AAFE itself faced mounting operational challenges, with cuts in government funding and social service contracts, constrained cash flow, and the extra costs associated with enhanced cleaning and safety measures for its housing properties.

Through Enterprise’s Covid-19 response program, we were able to assist AAFE with a $200,000 grant to address these operational issues and ensure that AAFE could continue to provide its crucial services to those in need. In addition to this funding, Enterprise provided direct technical assistance to AAFE on IT preparedness, asset management, and best practices for integrating social services with property management.

Not only was AAFE able to shore up its immediate operations, but it quickly pivoted to address the most pressing issues within its communities and expand its services. In the past year, AAFE has provided over 10,000 pounds of emergency food, distributed 14,000 masks and other PPE to vulnerable residents, and provided social services for more than 5,000 clients seeking aid with cash assistance, entitlements, federal and local subsidies and health resource registration. AAFE passed $333,000 in cash assistance directly to 200 households. AAFE also opened community stores across Manhattan and Queens to distribute free clothing and household goods to those in need.

Recognizing the enormous challenges facing local business owners, AAFE provided financing to over 250 small businesses, totaling $4.5 million in emergency capital and PPP loans. Supporting these local businesses has been critical to keeping jobs in communities, in addition to protecting small business owners from being forced to sell to predatory developers or investors, which would trigger new waves of landlord harassment and affordability loss in vulnerable neighborhoods. AAFE also provided counseling services to 151 potential homebuyers, 63 of whom became first time homeowners, leveraging $20 million in primary mortgages.

As a housing provider, AAFE faced immediate concerns for its properties, from increased costs associated with Covid-19 safety protocols, to depleted cash flows, outreach to tenants and residents, and a citywide delay on construction closings. The Enterprise grant helped the organization ensure the sustainability of their operations during this particularly uncertain period and provided the organization with the support to be able to ramp up its services to its community, including closing several critical affordable housing developments in their pipeline.

AAFE’s response to the Covid-19 crisis showcases the two major pillars of a community-based response: one, the ability of local service providers to pivot quickly, act flexibly, and ground their response in the individualized needs of the communities they serve; and two, their ability to identify long-term needs and concerns and maintain the lasting relationships within their communities that lead to change.

By quickly identifying the immediate need for Asian-language translation services for AAPI clients, AAFE helped members of their communities apply for aid and access critical services. By supporting local businesses, AAFE helped bolster the economic resiliency of the communities it serves. By strengthening and diversifying their housing portfolio, AAFE continues to ensure that vulnerable New Yorkers have a safe, affordable place to call home.

Enterprise is a proud partner of AAFE, and of all community-based organizations who fill this critical role of first responders within their communities.

Enterprise New York would like to thank the following partners for supporting our Covid-19 response work: New York State Attorney General, JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo, and Enterprise New York’s Gotham Society.