AAFE staff and board members congratulate this year’s Pioneer Spirit Award recipients Nisha Agarwal, Maria Torres-Springer, and Asian Americans for Equality Youth Leaders.

In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) organized its seventh community development conference at New York University’s Kimmel Center. The theme of the 7th Annual Asian American Community Development Conference was Housing and Opportunity: Community Development Working across Sectors. The aim of this year’s Conference was to spur a dialogue with leaders from community development, government, advocacy, philanthropy and the private sector about groundbreaking work to preserve and enhance our neighborhoods, to catalyze economic opportunity for immigrant New Yorkers, and to build power and influence for our communities.

This year’s Conference, attended by more than 250 people, provided an opportunity to reflect on how the community development movement has taken root in Asian American and immigrant communities in New York, and across the country. While community development corporations first began as preservers and developers of affordable housing in local communities, the sector has expanded in terms of breadth and deepened its impact to take on critical community issues: asset-building, entrepreneurship, economic development, education, workforce development, healthcare access, civic engagement, and public policy.

“This is an auspicious moment to be organizing our 7th Annual Asian American Community Development Conference as Asian Americans for Equality celebrates its 40th Anniversary at the same time our City takes critical steps forward towards building a more inclusive and equitable place for all New Yorkers,” said Executive Director Christopher Kui. “We take time to look back at how we have built a movement of immigrant-driven community development with our peers from around the country, and begin to forge a path for how the next 40 years of our work takes shape.”

The conference featured keynote addresses from Holly Leicht, Regional Administrator for New York and New Jersey at the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Vicki Been, Commissioner for the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also joined the conference to provide special remarks.

HUD Regional Administrator for New York and New Jersey Holly Leicht

“The theme of this year’s AAFE conference – ‘Housing & Development: Community Development Working across Sectors’ – presents an opportunity for those who care about the future of urban neighborhoods to engage in a critical discussion,” said Holly Leicht, HUD Regional Administrator for New York and New Jersey. “With more demands on fewer resources, it is essential that all levels of government, the private sector, philanthropy and community development organizations work collaboratively and innovatively to maximize the impact of investments in our communities. HUD is proud to be the lead on many efforts nationally, regionally and locally to break down traditional siloes that can prevent a comprehensive approach to community development, and we applaud AAFE for being a long-time and effective partner in this mission.”

NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been

“AAFE has been a valued partner in our mission to protect tenants’ rights to decent, affordable housing without fear of harassment or displacement,” said NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been. “HPD looks forward to continuing our work with the members of AAFE, and with all our community development partners, to implement the Mayor’s ambitious housing plan which will shape the future of our city and help to achieve more diverse and livable neighborhoods.”

Plenary sessions and workshop topics included: strategies to address poverty; housing counseling and home ownership; the needs of immigrant students; developing the next generation of community development practitioners; and coalition-building towards collective impact. Experts on the nexus of community development, government and immigrant communities who participated in conference panels included:

• Julie Menin, NYC Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner
• Christine D’Onofrio, NYC Center for Economic Opportunity
• Veyom Bahl, Robin Hood Foundation
• Josh Ishimatsu, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development
• John Olson, Goldman Sachs
• Christopher Kui, Asian Americans for Equality
• Seema Aganani, Chhaya CDC
• Keith Getter, NeighborWorks America
• Kim Latimer-Nelligan, Low Income Investment Fund
• Mark Willis, New York University Furman Center

The luncheon plenary panel highlighted innovative work in community development being pioneered in cities across the United States by members of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development: Little Tokyo Service Center (Los Angeles, CA); Chinatown Community Development Corporation (San Francisco, CA); East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (Oakland, CA); Seattle Chinatown/International District Public Development Authority (Seattle, WA); and Asian Americans for Equality and Chhaya CDC (New York, NY).

Asian Americans for Equality presented its Pioneer Spirit Award to two trailblazers in civic life. The Pioneer Spirit Award recognizes individuals and organizations that challenge the status quo and push for policy changes and public thinking to champion community development and empowerment. This year Asian Americans for Equality honored Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner for the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and Maria Torres-Springer, Commissioner for the New York City Department of Small Business Services.

(left to right) Chhaya CDC Executive Director Seema Agnani, AAFE Board President Wendy Takahisa, NYC Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs and Pioneer Spirit Award recipient Nisha Agarwal, AAFE Executive Director Chris Kui, and AAFE Director of Policy and Leadership Development Douglas Nam Le

“The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs heartily congratulates Asian Americans for Equality on its 7th Annual Community Development Conference,” said Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal. “AAFE is one of the leading voices for the Asian American community in New York City and a critical partner to the City in promoting immigrant inclusion, economic opportunity and well-being. MOIA looks forward to continuing our close partnership with AAFE as we advance Mayor de Blasio’s vision to create a safe, accessible New York City for all immigrants.”

(left to right) AAFE Board President Wendy Takahisa, NeighborWorks America Relationship Manager Keith Getter, Commissioner for the New York City Department of Small Business Services and Pioneer Spirit Award recipient Maria Torres-Springer, and AAFE Executive Director Chris Kui

“As the child of Filipino immigrants, I understand the importance of ensuring that all people have the opportunity to build better lives, and as Commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services, I will work to ensure that every entrepreneur and jobseeker —regardless of what they look like or where they are from—has the access to the resources they need to succeed,” said Maria Torres-Springer, Commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services. “I am honored to be a recipient of the Pioneer Spirit Award, and I thank AAFE for the tremendous work they do on behalf of all New Yorkers.”

Asian Americans for Equality wishes to thank its generous sponsors for supporting this year’s Conference, including New York Community Bancorp, New York University, Bank of America, BNY Mellon, ConEdison, Edison Properties, HSBC, Low-Income Investment Fund (LIIF), M&T Bank, and the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development.

For photos of the event, please click here.