Affordable Housing and Health Study

Carolyn, Virginia and Mehreen in the back row with ACDC staff

Carolyn, Virginia and Mehreen in the back row with ACDC staff

ACDC has been working with a team of researchers from Tufts University and MIT, on a collaborative community health survey to explore how and to what extent affordable housing improves various health factors such as nutrition and safety.

Thank you to Carolyn Rubin, Ed.D, an Assistant Professor at the Tufts University School of Medicine, Department of Public Health, Virginia Chomitz, PhD, MS, an Associate Professor also at the Tufts University School of Medicine, and Mehreen Ismail, MPH, a doctoral student in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program at the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and to Mariana Arcaya, ScD, MCP, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and Public Health at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning, who worked with ACDC to develop the survey, conduct the survey and record the survey results. Carolyn, Virginia and Mariana recently shared with us the preliminary results.

The study, which was also translated into Chinese and Spanish, focuses two sets of households, the first set (56 households) were those who were selected via lottery to move into an affordable rental at 66 Hudson at One Greenway, ACDC's affordable development completed in 2015. The second group are those who are still on a waitlist for affordable housing and have not yet moved into an affordable rental or affordable condo/house. The preliminary study focused on the first group, those who now live in affordable housing. A few highlights from the survey results:

  • 75% of respondents felt that their living in affordable housing in Chinatown enabled them to meet their basic needs, meaning the location was close to amenities such as grocery stores, work, school and the hospital.
  • 75% reported being able to find fresh fruits and vegetables nearby.
  • Respondents who previously lived in suburban areas (Weymouth, etc) found that living in Chinatown was more convenient to meet their basic needs.
  • 50% of the households reported that their previous living situation was overcrowded.
  • One respondent commented, "Chinatown is a better place to live for older individuals", and explained that there was more time to do other activities because they were not spending as much time commuting. They also mentioned appreciating the shorter distances they needed to walk to get to various amenities, and how walking further distances increases their arthritic pain during colder months.

We are working to secure additional funding to continue the study and follow up with those who are still on a waiting list for affordable housing, in addition to:

  • exploring the nuances of the responses from the preliminary study;
  • conducting qualitative research to connect with survey respondents on their food intake and nutritional habits;
  • exploring the effects of gentrification on the food environment and how that affects those who live in affordable housing (i.e. Whole Foods moving into a gentrifying neighborhood vs a grocery store with more affordable prices);
  • surveying if those living in affordable housing still deal with food insecurity and to what extent;
  • and continuing to follow up with each group to explore these health factors over time.

Introduction: Lee-Daniel Tran

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Hello, my name is Lee-Daniel Tran. I’m 17 years old and a junior at Boston Latin School. I’m a burgeoning photographer and photojournalist, and have been pursuing this work since 2011. I’m excited to contribute my photos and stories of the community to ACDC’s blog! Besides photography, which I'm also involved in at Boston Latin, I'm a violinist in their philharmonic orchestra, I sing Bass in Show Choir, a dancing and singing ensemble, and I sing Tenor 1 in the Wolftones, an all-boys acapella group. I’m also a volunteer tutor at my old school, the Richard J. Murphy School.

I am Vietnamese, and the only one in my family who was born in the U.S. My mother, May, and older sister, Vee, were born in Vietnam and arrived here in 1999. My father, Hien, was also born in Vietnam, but came to the U.S as a refugee in 1975, shortly after the war. He was a professional photographer, and developed this interest in college, and I look forward to also sharing his experience in a future post. As you can guess, my father was my inspiration for becoming interested in cameras and photography.

A-VOYCE, ACDC’s youth leadership program, has been a part of my life for about 2 years. I was first introduced to the program while attending the Films at the Gate event in Chinatown in 2016. It was there that learned about ACDC, and that A-VOYCE was an opportunity for me to give back to Chinatown. I choose to stay involved because of my interest in and commitment to working towards preserving affordable housing, small businesses and public spaces in the Chinatown community.

A-VOYCE has created opportunities for me to contribute my voice and become more civically engaged in the community. With A-VOYCE, I have been able to learn about the effects of gentrification: rising rents and property values for residents and small businesses, which then causes displacement of these community members; as well as its effect on potential public spaces that could benefit the community, in danger of being sold for private use. A-VOYCE provided platforms for me and my peers to address issues around gentrification, such as implementing placemaking projects and using its success to advocate to City officials that Chinatown is vibrant community that deserves to be preserved.

This year, I'm part of A-VOYCE 2.0, a new group within A-VOYCE where older members learn about project management. I will be co-leading this year’s Films at the Gate event, and I'm excited to take charge of a project that helps to revitalize Chinatown and brings community members together.

The community where I live is actually not in Chinatown, but Dorchester. My family and I like to walk to the nearby parks and trails because it’s quiet and peaceful. My friends and I also like to hang out at the park or walk the trails, play video games, and of course, take photographs. In addition to volunteering as a tutor, I stay involved in my community by delivering the Ashmont Newsletter for Ashmont Hill, and I work at Ashmont Cycles, a local bike shop. What I love about Dorchester is that there are a lot of things in the neighborhood to enjoy, from restaurants to parks, and the people here are friendly. I hope that you will enjoy the photos and stories from the community that I’ll be sharing on the blog!

Here's some of my work, which you can check out more of on my Flickr page.

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"GIFTS" by Cynthia Yee

Cynthia with her Uncle Eddie, who is teaching her how to feed pigeons in the Boston Common. Photo Courtesy of Cynthia Yee.

This was originally published in the AARW collection “Asian Voices from Beantown” in 2012.  

My family did not believe in buying gifts for birthdays and Christmas. They always gave me red envelope money for the Chinese Lunar New Year and my birthday with good wishes and something about saving the money for the future or letting it grow baby coins in the bank. Every year my cousin, Albert, could pick one toy for a Christmas present and I was invited to go along. I just helped Albert decide: a train, a toy gun, or a cowboy outfit. I would just look in the shiny cases at the department store, wishing our parents had mutually agreed that they would keep it simple “lo lo sit sit” and not buy gifts for each other’s children requiring a return gift, a polite way of repayment. It was considered an unnecessary frivolity in our frugal immigrant life. 

My tall and handsome Uncle Eddie had a wife and six children in China and was a waiter at the Cathay House on Beach Street. He lived alone in Chinatown but he came for dinner on the men’s “day-off-foo” and holidays. One day he brought me a Gift. 

The gift was two books. One was called “The Sun” and the other, “A Book of Natural History.” I was amazed and thrilled to receive a Gift. I had never owned a book and aside from the Maryknoll nuns no one ever gave me a gift. I would pore over those two books every chance I had. Aside from my Comics collection, they were the only two books I owned. The illustrations of the fiery sun with its black sunspots and its planets and the beautiful pictures of great varieties of plants and animals mesmerized me; their categories and their evolutionary history intrigued me. 

For my Secondary School graduation he gave me an expensive Omega watch by which I checked my time all the way through College. He encouraged me to go to a good graduate school. I have always kept that Omega watch. When I look at it, I think of him and his respect for me. 

Cynthia at 24 with her uncle in Hong Kong during their trip to China to visit his family. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Yee.

When I was twenty-four years old and before China opened to tourism, we traveled together to China with visas from Canada. He wanted to see his wife and grown family. I was just curious to see the land of my parents’ birth. He had not seen his wife and children in over twenty-five years and never met his grandchildren. As the train chugged into Guangzhou from Hong Kong, we conversed and admired the verdant green rice paddies and he talked to me about his younger days in China. This was a time of return and reunion for my sojourner uncle and for me, his American born niece, entrance into an unknown way of life. For five weeks he had family dinners and conversation and rejoiced in the warm company of his large and loving family. Just five weeks out of a lifetime. 

Uncle Eddie reunited with his family in Guangzhou, China after over 25 years of living apart. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Yee.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Yee.

Years later, back in the United States and our American lives, I helped to negotiate with two alienated governments to bring his wife and two of his sons, their wives and their daughters to America. But he died before their arrival. Our trip would be the last time he would see his much yearned for family. His two young granddaughters grew to become accomplished students and professionals and told me recently of a return trip to the new China for a family reunion. They honored the sacrifices of their deceased grandparents. 

Uncle Eddie and his wife. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Yee.

I have now, in the many years that have passed, lost the Sun book but have kept “The Book of Natural History” with its dog-eared pages and torn and frayed cover and binding. I keep it at my Cape Cod house where I planted a large garden. I experimented with a variety of seeds, mulches and soil mixtures augmented with truckloads of manure and topsoil. I became a teacher of science to young children. Planting seeds and Spring bulbs, studying the patterns of the night sky, the Earth, the Sun, the Moon and the Stars I felt like a traveler in the immense Universe. Gardening and cooking, teaching and experimentation, and studying science phenomenon continue to give me great personal joy. 

My Uncle Eddie’s granddaughters, Megan and Christina, tell me how lucky they feel to be living in the United States, with its many opportunities. I pause and think how very lucky I am for her Grandfather, my tall and handsome Uncle Eddie, who gave me the gift of two books, for the possibilities he saw in me before I saw them in myself. 

For the dreams I helped make come true for him and his family, I hope it was a good enough repayment for a more than good enough Gift. 

"Written In loving memory of Moon-Fun Yee, who I called “Ai Sook”, Eldest Young Uncle."

Cynthia Yee was the first Chinese American homeroom teacher at the Josiah Quincy School in Boston's Chinatown, was voted  “#1 Teacher” by the Brooklihe Tab, and also honored as  “Outstanding Mentor and Master Teacher of Young Children “ by Northeastern University School of Education. Cynthia grew up on Hudson Street, where the greatest density of Boston Chinese immigrant  families were allowed to take root after the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Her Uncle Eddie was also a Hudson Street resident, and one of the many sojourner casualties of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

"Snow Angels" by Cynthia Yee

Thank you to Cynthia Yee (bio below), a local writer who shared with ACDC her story reminiscing about the fond memories she has of playing with her cousin in the snow on Hudson Street in the 1950s and 60s. That joy was short-lived after hundreds of immigrant families, including Cynthia's, were forced to move out of their homes due to the highway construction. ACDC is proud to have developed 146 affordable homes on Hudson Street, of which 51 all-affordable condos have completed construction this year. Aside from the few families who were able to stay, Hudson Street was left barren and quiet for over 60 years. This winter, we look forward to welcoming back the vibrant scenes and symphony of children and their families playing in the snow and making new, fond memories, once again.

Seeing Snow Angels in the newly fallen snow made me think of the children's book “Do Like Kyla”, a picture book for young children. Two African American children were on the cover making Snow Angels. In the story, one child flapped her arms first and the other copied her. I liked the motion, the feeling of lying against a bank of soft, cold snow, all bundled up, face warm from the sunshine, and flapping my arms until I made the imprint of of wings in the white, fluffy snow. What I liked most was the story of two children having fun together. It reminded me of playing with my cousin, Albert, in the snowy streets of Chinatown Boston when we were around five and seven years old and having such a happy, good time.

Cynthia (right) with her cousin, Albert on Hudson Street. Photo by Eddie Moon-Fun Yee, courtesy of Cynthia Yee.

Albert and I made snowmen, snow forts, and snowballs. We made imprints in the snow with our feet, swishing our feet in and out to make a fan shape. We brushed the snow off the cars with our knit gloves. He wore a black aviator cap with flip-up ear covers and I wore a long outgrown, but still serviceable, green knit hat that had a fur strip around the top edge like a headband and two long ties that tied under my chin. The snow felt cold and refreshing against our faces. Our Ai Sook loved his camera and took pictures of us playing in the snow. We were happy, as happy as angels, in the streets of Boston. Hudson Street was covered in white. It was white everywhere, white on the stone stoops where we played flip-up baseball cards in the summer, white on the stoop sides where our mothers sat and chatted on hot, summer nights, white on the parked cars that belonged to other people. White flurries swirled around us and we had tiny snowflakes here and there, on our hair, on our eyelashes, on our noses, on our arms, our pants and in our boots. We smiled at each other, giggling, as we put handfuls of snow on each others’ heads, backs and legs, and rolled in the snow.

Photo by Eddie Moon-Fun Yee, courtesy of Cynthia Yee.

We posed for our tall, handsome uncle, our Ai Sook, a man separated from his wife and six children in tropical southern China. My cousin and I were happy Snow Angels to him, a reminder of children far away. He smiled and pointed his camera. We grabbed a handful of the fluffy snow and smiled back, ever glad to be his American Snow Angels.

Photo by Eddie Moon-Fun Yee, courtesy of Cynthia Yee.

Photo by Eddie Moon-Fun Yee, courtesy of Cynthia Yee.

Cynthia Yee grew up on Boston Chinatown's Hudson Street and is the original founder of the Asian American Resource Workshop Writers Group in Boston. She is a Boston-born educator, writer, storyteller, dabbler, daydreamer, traveler and cafe sitter. Her family originally hails from Taishan, Guangdong, China, a rural area, and she is deeply influenced by that cultural and culinary tradition as well as her New England Chinatown upbringing. Ethnic and open air markets, cities, the seashore, cafes, theatre, books, and hiking paths, are favorite places for inspiration.

Cynthia feels she has been privileged and enriched by witnessing, at close range, the everyday lives of people who live on the edge of mainstream America. She writes stories to honor their lives of resilience, humanity, and precious uniqueness and thereby contribute to the lexicon of American literature. She encourages other people of color to do the same.

Reflections: Amy

Amy (left) pictured with Carro, a former A-VOYCE youth from 10 years ago, in front of the new community mural in Dorchester's Fields Corner.

Amy (left) pictured with Carro, a former A-VOYCE youth from 10 years ago, in front of the new community mural in Dorchester's Fields Corner.

ACDC started running youth programs in 2003, creating projects like the Chinatown Banquet, a series of short films featuring Chinatown’s history and community members. Asians Voices of Organized Youth for Community Empowerment (A-VOYCE) was developed in 2005. The program was conceptualized by a group of youth from prior years, who identified the lack of Asian American-centered or Chinese-language programming on the radio. The youth curated a public radio program discussing cultural and social issues, while developing the knowledge and skills to use media as a social and political organizing tool.

Amy Cheung served as one of the program’s first coordinators. With experience as a radio station DJ in college and a growing passion for working with youth, Amy found an opportunity to serve as an AmeriCorps Massachusetts Promise Fellow at ACDC to implement the A-VOYCE program, for which the previous youth cohort and program coordinator had set the objectives.

“One of the most important lessons that I still carry from this experience is looking at cities and places as being alive and evolving. I think that with the radio and walking tour project having evolved into A-VOYCE as a cohesive youth program, it allowed for this exploration of not just identity, but also of place. When you do this kind of work you see how alive a neighborhood is and changes over time. Working with ACDC sparked an interest in community and urban planning and placemaking. I find myself more observant, wondering how a neighborhood has evolved and who was part of that process. You come to realize and appreciate how vibrant cities are. I remember taking youth on a college tour and while on the commuter rail, one of the them was in awe of the drastically different environment in the suburbs. It was a lesson on wealth and income inequality, and thinking about how we move through the world and observe these differences.”

Amy recalls how facilitating a group outside of an academic setting created impactful, relational moments, “These experiences have a lot of value because as a young person going through the challenges of adolescence and life, having a fun and safe community can go a long way. When I got married a few years ago, I invited my former youth because a lot of my identity today is so intimately tied to my experiences as a young adult and doing youth work. They were an important part of that journey.

“I currently serve on ACDC’s board where I offer my perspective on programs and youth work. It’s been really amazing to see how the board is so supportive of youth work, especially because of how integral youth are in community development work overall.”