Freddie Mac kicks in $1.5 million for Chinatown housing

BY ALBERT AMATEAU  |  Asian Americans for Equality and the Rebuild Chinatown Initiative received $1.5 million from Freddie Mac this week, which they will use to launch the Lower Manhattan Affordable Housing Trust Fund to build or rehabilitate 100 units of affordable housing per year south of Houston St.

Representatives of the Federal Home Loan Mortgaged Corp., commonly known as Freddie Mac, presented an oversized model of the check to Chris Kui, executive director of AAFE in the presence of U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and Congressmember Nydia Velazquez who represents the district.

“This is a down-payment on a fund we intend to capitalize at $15 million to build affordable housing Downtown regardless of racial or ethnic affiliation,” Kui said to a June 2 lunch time crowd of Chinatown civic leaders.

Kui said that for the first year the Freddie Mac money would fund improvement of existing housing by private and not-for-profit landlords.

Projects will be judged on short and long-term affordability by low-income families. Scale and design appropriate for Chinatown will also be a factor in funding projects.

Freddie Mac last year gave AAFE a $250,000 grant for a three-month study of needs in Chinatown in the wake of the economic impact of the World Trade Center attack. The study involved a survey of nearly 2,000 residents who indicated that the lack of affordable housing was a serious problem in Chinatown.

The newly organized affordable housing trust fund has an investment committee of bankers and community leaders including Marilyn Geber of Independence Community Foundation and Lydia Tom, president of The Enterprise Fund, Kui said.

“We’re seeking other funds from government and private sources,” Kui said. “We’ve been talking to L.M.D.C. [Lower Manhattan Development Corp.] and they’re interested in affordable housing.”

Calvert Social Investment Fund, Deutsche Bank and TD Waterhouse are among private sector institutions that are supporting AAFE’s new housing initiative. Over the past 16 years, AAFE has invested about $60 million in developing 60 residential projects with a total of 500 apartments, Kui said.

Schumer said the Freddie Mac grant is an important step in revitalizing the neighborhood.“Chinatown has been hit with a one-two punch,” he said. “First there was the horrible event of 9/11 which left 23 percent of Chinatown residents unemployed for some time. Then the SARS scare. There is no SARS in Chinatown, but when we came to eat in Chinatown last month to show people that there was no SARS, the streets were empty.”

Freddie Mac is a private corporation chartered by Congress to finance low-cost home mortgages. It solicits private investors in financial markets. Schumer praised the organization as a bridge between the private and public sectors.

Velazquez said the Freddie Mac investment sends a message to New York to support Chinatown. She digressed from the housing issue with a statement that prompted spirited applause.

“We need to open Park Row,” she said, referring to the closing since Sept. 11, 2001 of the stretch of the street between Police Plaza and Chatham Sq. “It’s about time. It’s killing the housing and the quality of life in Chinatown. We cannot jeopardize the security of New York, but there has to be some commonality for the Chinese community.”