Philadelphia, Pennsylvania/New York, New York

The Philadelphia and New York metropolitan areas are adjacent to one another, and together they illustrate the continuities and discontinuities between these two Northeastern metros in regard to Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) rental affordability. While Metro Philadelphia has a much smaller AAPI population and is substantially more affordable, both regions have working-class AAPI communities facing the overlapping challenges of linguistic isolation, overcrowding, and displacement due to rising costs of living. These resettlements can imperil many AAPIs reliant on the language, social service, and cultural networks within both metros’ historical immigrant enclaves.

With more than two million AAPI residents in 2019, the New York metropolitan area was only second to Los Angeles in terms of the overall AAPI population. New York is also one of the most expensive regions in the US, which is reflected in our rental affordability data. Only 37 percent of zip codes in the New York metro had median market rents affordable for median-income AAPI households in 2019, and just 34 percent of AAPIs in the region lived in affordable neighborhoods. Only about one in 10 AAPIs in the region lived in an area that was both affordable and high opportunity. By contrast, the Philadelphia metro area had an AAPI population only one-sixth the size of New York’s, but a much wider landscape of rental affordability. In 2019, 76 percent of zip codes in the region were affordable for median-income AAPI households (over twice the rate of New York’s) and 73 percent of all AAPI residents lived in these affordable neighborhoods. Nearly one-third (29 percent) of AAPI residents lived in affordable and high-opportunity neighborhoods, three times the rate of the New York metro’s AAPI population.

However, conversations with staff from AAPI-serving organizations in Philadelphia and New York City illuminated some core similarities between the plights of AAPI residents in both metros. Many working-class families live in overcrowded apartment units to accommodate untenable rental costs, and current zoning and housing development practices are slow to accommodate the needs of multigenerational households. Many other AAPIs, including undocumented immigrants, live in informal rental arrangements — under-the-table payments, subletting from other subletters, doubling up with family members — that can create challenges for tenants who are exploited in such off-the-grid arrangements. Families with limited English proficiency — especially those who speak less common languages or dialects — can struggle to navigate rental markets or apply for affordable housing through online portals.

Also, in both metro areas, rising housing costs have threatened the displacement of many AAPI residents from historical immigrant enclaves in central-city areas to more outlying parts of each region. In both Philadelphia and New York City, staff at AAPI-led and serving community-based organizations (CBOs) have witnessed an increase in displaced community members who still rely on services in these urban enclaves. These AAPI residents are forced to travel long distances from their new neighborhoods to continue seeking aid. AAPI CBOs play essential roles in both metros, serving as liaisons between public institutions and local residents who are more likely to trust linguistically and culturally accessible nonprofits for service supports and critical information. Moreover, public institutions often struggle to maintain timely informational materials, applications, and instructions in threshold languages, making the work of multilingual CBO staff all the more valuable. AAPI-serving CBOs also play an inextricable role in setting equitable visions for future housing and community development, as they are able to elevate the experiences of underrepresented, working-class AAPI residents and ensure that neighborhood engagement plays a formative part in urban planning processes.

These discussions with local advocates reinforced the notion that AAPI settlement patterns may reflect understandings of “opportunity” that do not align with the Child Opportunity Index. In both metros, the largest AAPI communities lie in areas that generally grade as low or very low opportunity on the index: the neighborhoods in and around Chinatown in South Philadelphia, the areas in and around Sunset Park in southwest Brooklyn, and the corridor between Elmhurst and Flushing in north-central Queens. Each of these communities is home to dense networks of language-friendly and culturally affirmative resources, small businesses, civic associations, and other local institutions that are central to the lives of many immigrants and linguistically isolated residents in these metros, despite other structural issues in housing, employment, and education. Many residents who rely on these networks would opt to live locally despite these broader challenges.

Despite the discrepancies in rental affordability, the Philadelphia and New York metropolitan areas demonstrate the full array of necessary supports for low-income AAPI renters, beyond access to affordable housing alone. Urban redevelopment projects must take into consideration the importance of enclaves as critical employment and social epicenters for many immigrants; tenant protections must account for the myriad strategies that working-class residents take to keep a roof over their heads; language access must be a persistent priority within housing service networks. In addition, it is crucial that families who have already been displaced still have access to the social and service networks that sustain them, such as through reliable and affordable public transportation systems that serve all residents in the region.

Yue Wu, the neighborhood planning and project manager at the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation; John Chin, the executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation; Edwin Tablada, the director of policy and Advocacy for the Chinese American Planning Council; and Ashley Chen, a policy fellow at the Chinese American Planning Council, contributed observations and insights to this profile.