On Thursday, November 17th, representatives of the Chinatown community gathered at the Division of Housing and Community Development offices to testify at the Fair Housing Assessment hearing. Long-time residents spoke out about their experiences in Chinatown, particularly as a hub for non-English speakers who rely on the community for bilingual resources. The representatives universally spoke of the need for more affordable housing in Chinatown to preserve its unique cultural resources. Below are excerpts of their testimonies:
“A strong network of bilingual institutions and relationships has been developed in Chinatown, and it is important to preserve this role so that no LEP Chinese and Asian immigrants feel helpless, ignored, and isolated when obtaining the necessary health care they deserve.”
Candy Chau, a former employee of GPHA Chinatown Medical Services (CMS) in South Philadelphia and a former research assistant at Center for Asian Heath (CAH) at Temple University.
“Living in the On Lok House has provided a sense of security and comfort for our family. We knew our grandparents were well taken care of and that they were able to be independent people in a foreign country.
On Lok House is the only senior housing in Chinatown. My grandparents were one of the lucky ones. There is a 10-year waiting list for apartments. Everyone wants to live in Chinatown. There is a great need for seniors especially. On Lok has less than 60 units but they serve thousands of seniors from all over the city through the On Lok Senior Center.”
“There are many people like me in Chinatown and in the city. We pay [Rent] and pay because we are scared. Many of us do not know where to go to get help when we are in trouble. Many Chinese immigrants want to live here so we can be close to work, family, and services in Chinatown, but we cannot find affordable housing.”
Mei Chan Zhang, Chinatown sanitation worker
“Hubs like [Chinatown] are important for non-English speakers, as they have been in the past for many other immigrant groups, such as the Irish, Italians, Polish, etc. Just as you identified Racially and Ethnically Concentrated Areas of Poverty as places to target resources, so you should identify places like Chinatown as areas which should receive particular consideration and protection.
What is the point of creating such a long report, if none of the goals address our community’s problems?”
George Moy, 91 years old, founder of PCDC
“When my parents first got to Philadelphia, they lived in a very small apartment along with a few other family members. However, shortly after I was born in 1989, our family was fortunate enough to have become beneficiaries of the Dynasty Court Section 8 housing. My mom told me that when they came by to review their living conditions at the time, the official believed that it was no place to raise a child. Dynasty Court gave us a place to live where we had enough space, so that I would not have to share a room with my parents, or with other family members. We were able to invite friends to come over, so that we could build, and create communities in our home.”
“During [Chinese Christian Church and Center’s] annual health screenings, a team of 20-30 medical students with their supervising doctors worked nonstop for 4 hours providing blood sugar screening, blood pressure screening, physical exams, and education on medical conditions. Our church members serve as translators to facilitate the care. Most of the participants live in Chinatown and South Philly. Over 90% of them are limited English speakers. For most of them, this is one of the few times that they will encounter a healthcare provider. Last year during the screening, the medical team identified a man who needed urgent medical care. After spending 2 hours of trying to explain his conditions to him, and much convincing, he was finally willing to go to the hospital with a church member at his side who can translate for him. He was in the ICU over about 2 weeks. His story is not unique. Poor health literacy, limited English proficiency, and an inflexible work schedule were all barriers for him to seek out medical care.
20 years ago, my parents couldn’t receive medical care due to lack of financial resources. 20 years later, despite the availability of insurance, language barriers and limited health literacy still remain big hurdles for them and our Chinatown community members to access health care. So how do we bridge the gap? Services needs to come to the community, provided in their native languages. Let’s work together to bring the much needed resources to our Chinatown community.”
Ling Yang, Chinese Christian Church and Center
“A lack of knowledge about navigating the local health care system – things that we think are simple, like making an appointment to see a doctor, are a foreign concept for people who are coming from countries where the medical system looks very different. And when you compound that with language barriers, you realize how difficult it becomes to call a provider’s office and make an appointment when you can’t understand the person on the other end of the phone… This is why places in Philadelphia, like Chinatown Medical Services, are playing such a critical role in keeping our 104,000 Asian Philadelphians healthy.”
Catherine Freeland, Public Health Program Manager at the Hepatitis B Foundation (HBF). HBF manages Hep B United Philadelphia and is the largest Asian-based community owned coalition in Philly
“Affordable housing is the lifeblood of an immigrant community. As property values have increased, so have housing cost burdens, housing quality issues, and housing instability. Almost all immigrants who rent in Chinatown are cost burdened. When people cannot afford the rent, it leads to accepting housing with quality issues. It means accepting a landlord who does not maintain the property and takes advantage of you, often illegally. It means taking on a subletter in order to pay the bills. And finally, it leads to moving out, voluntarily or involuntarily.
Based on our experience serving the Chinese community in Philadelphia, the rates of Asian households who have housing cost burdens and experience severe housing issues and housing instability in Chinatown is much higher than that stated in the report for Asians overall. In addition, these issues are also historically underreported for the LEP and immigrant Asian community. Displacement does and will disproportionately impact the low-income, LEP Asian community in Chinatown.”
Rachel Mak, PCDC Deputy Director