When Mr. Ng, a 70-year old Chinese American war veteran, returned to New York City after serving the United States in the Korean War, he settled in a tiny one-bedroom tenement apartment built in the early 1900s on Chinatown’s Henry Street. He brought with him a few personal possessions, including his Army uniform, as a memento of his dedication to America.
For almost fifty years Mr. Ng lived in that apartment, and for fifty years the previous landlords of this building neglected to repair Mr. Ng’s home. By the time Asian Americans For Equality (AAFE) came upon the building, the small, walk-up apartment which the war veteran lived in was in a state of severe deterioration and decay.
A barely functioning gas-powered refrigerator sat on one side of the kitchen, which doubled as the bath with a stand-alone tub next to the sink. Circa-1950s range oven, which no longer worked, stood next to the refrigerator, forcing Mr. Ng to cook his food on an electric hot plate. Floors caved downwards at certain spots. Walls were spotted with chipped paint, the topmost layer cracking and peeling back, and pieces of old paint were falling to the floor throughout the apartment. In certain places, the walls had decayed to such a degree that the outer brick wall of the building became exposed. In this decrepit apartment, the only item of value was the war veteran’s Army uniform, proudly displayed on one of the less damaged sections of the wall.
AAFE identified a vacant apartment on a lower floor of the same Henry Street building and immediately renovated it, providing donated new furniture for the war veteran. In a short period of time, Mr. Ng was able to move into the new apartment with polished floors and freshly painted walls. Mr. Ng is thankful to be able to stay in an affordable renovated apartment in the same building without having to climb several stories to his previous dilapidated unit, as well as being able to live in the same Chinatown community where his friends, relatives, and favorite gathering places are located.
As Mr. Ng settles in his newly renovated apartment for the first time, AAFE has since then improved the lives of 90 households in Chinatown through this innovative affordable housing preservation program, by reinvesting a total of $20 million back into the community. AAFE looks to complete another 70 units in the next year to come.