Description & History
Founded in 2000, Chhaya CDC's mission is to create more stable and sustainable communities by increasing civic participation and addressing the unique housing and community development needs of South Asian Americans, new immigrants and their neighbors.
Through a multi-pronged approach—which includes education, outreach, organizing, and counseling—Chhaya leads the effort to bring housing, financial literacy, and homeownership resources to the South Asian community.
Coupled with the organization's policy and advocacy initiatives, this work impacts the lives of Chhaya's clients by offering them the information they need to stabilize their housing and improve their lives.
South Asians—immigrants from the regions and border areas of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as the diaspora from the Caribbean and other areas—are one of New York City's newest immigrant groups and also one of its fastest growing ethnic populations.
As of the 2000 Census, the city's South Asian population was 271,447, a 138 percent increase since 1990.
To reach this diverse population, Chhaya offers services in several South Asian languages including Hindi/Urdu, Bangla, Nepali, Punjabi, and Tibetan.
Neighborhoods Served Chhaya targets its efforts in the northwestern Queens, specifically reaching residents of Community Districts 3 and 4 (including Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst), as well as portions of southern Queens, specifically in Community Districts 8, 9 and 12 (including Jamaica and Richmond Hill). These areas are characterized, in general, by high percentages of low- to moderate income households, growing immigrant populations who are isolated by language and culture, and substandard housing.
Specifically, the Asian American Pacific Islander populations in these communities show rapid growth—as high as 82.5 percent in some areas.
The majority of the populations in each area rent their homes, and homeowners and homebuyers in each area are disproportionately affected by predatory lending schemes.
* Organized a tenant union among a large scale building in Woodside, New York with more than 80% South Asian residents; and obtained repairs for more than 20 tenants, filed a building-wide HP action, and are challenging illegal rent increases for those tenants on the state level.
* Organized a leadership training series for the Queens Vantage Tenant Council—training 15 tenant leaders representing tenants throughout the borough of Queens.
* Combating predatory lending and addressing foreclosure through intensive education and outreach, counseling, and referral with support from New York State and in partnership with the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, Neighborhood Economic Development and Advocacy Project, the National Council of La Raza, and National CAPACD.
Chhaya's programming focus on: the creation and preservation of affordable housing; the organizing support of low- to moderate-income renters; the education of first time homebuyers; and the overall integration of South Asian immigrants into the community planning and civic processes of their neighborhoods and the broader city.
Specific programs are as follows:
* Tenant organizing and leadership development
* Homeownership and financial literacy education for first time homebuyers
* Loss mitigation counseling and legal assistance for those at risk of foreclosure
* Policy research and advocacy Tenant organizing and leadership development Chhaya encourages active civic participation among those it serves, both in their local communities and, for those who are citizens, in broader citywide/statewide/nationwide civic processes.
This work includes voter engagement and empowerment activities through which the organization mobilizes South Asians to advocate on their own behalf to elected officials.
Finally, Chhaya is in the process of training individual leaders from the tenants and other community members it organizes, so that they can speak directly on issues that impact their lives and the broader community, and also use their input to help Chhaya to shape future programs.
Homeownership and financial literacy education for first time homebuyers Chhaya helps to prepare South Asians and others to become first-time homeowners by introducing them to the homeownership process; examining important financial literacy concepts such as credit and mortgages; educating about how to avoid predatory lending practices; etc.
In addition, the organization offers individual counseling and opens up files to track client progress.
Through its homeownership counseling and workshops, Chhaya offers budget counseling, purchasing procedures, mortgage financing, down payment/closing cost savings plans, accessibility requirements of the property, and when appropriate, credit improvement and debt consolidation.
Chhaya's staff—trained by NeighborWorks, Freddie Mac and NEDAP—counsels clients on their financial situation and assesses their readiness for homeownership.
The staff also assists with the preparation of applications, provides translation for applicants, and provides counseling and referral for those with poor credit histories or budgeting problems.
Loss mitigation counseling and legal assistance for those at risk of foreclosure Chhaya engages in direct outreach—through street fairs, community events, and dissemination of informational flyers—to promote its services for those at-risk of foreclosure (or currently in default).
The organization also sends direct mailings to those in default with South Asian surnames.
The aim of this outreach is to draw clients for counseling and legal assistance referral through a partnership with the Legal Aid Society (for which Chhaya tracks cases and provide translation when necessary).
Finally, the organization offers workshops aimed at both at-risk homeowners as well as tenants who could face eviction if a property is foreclosed.
Policy research and advocacy
Due to the high number of unregulated housing units in Queens—which represent an untapped source of affordable housing—Chhaya spearheads a campaign to research this issue of the community level and present a policy position.
Chhaya works closely with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the New York Immigration Coalition, and Pratt Institute for Community Development to promote the adoption of an accessory dwelling unit code that would allow for the legalization of these units (that meet other safety standards held by the Department of Buildings).
Toward this end, Chhaya has released two policy papers containing original research.
Finally, the organization provides technical assistance to owners who have unregulated units they wish to legalize.