Chris Kui Announces Retirement as Executive Director of AAFE


A big transition is ahead for Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE).

Chris Kui, the non-profit organization’s longtime executive director, announced yesterday he would be retiring at the end of this year after a quarter century in the top leadership role at AAFE.

During his years at the Lower East Side/Chinatown-based organization, AAFE built more than 800 units of affordable housing and helped facilitate hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in home and small business loans in immigrant communities throughout New York City.

In a statement, Kui said, “Quite simply, this organization has been my life… My career with AAFE has been enormously satisfying and more than I could have ever imagined… I am very proud of all we have accomplished together at AAFE, and I know that the immigrant, homeless and low-income communities of New York City will continue to be well served by this organization and its dedicated staff and Board.”

Doris Koo, who served as AAFE’s first executive director in the 1980s, is returning as the organization’s interim executive director. A search is beginning for a permanent executive director.



Three Years After Fire at 289 Grand Street, Local Leaders Celebrate Return of Tenants

More than three years after one of the most devastating fires in Chinatown history, tenants of 289 Grand St. celebrate a return to their homes.

Judge Orders Owner of Fire-Damaged 289 Grand Street to Make Repairs

289 Grand Street.

A big victory today for the residents of 289 Grand Street, who have been fighting for two years to return home to their apartments after a devastating fire.  A housing court judge ruled in their favor, saying the property owner is compelled to renovate the building, rather than tear it down.

Late this afternoon, the tenants, along with Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), an organization advocating legally on their behalf, and local elected officials called a news conference to celebrate the decision.

Asian Americans For Equality to Honor Green Community Activists at Summer Street Fest

2011 Chinatown Summer Street Fest Honorees - from left: Dylan House, Kirsti Bambridge, Thomas Yu, Sheela Feinberg, John Leo and Wilson Soo

Asian Americans For Equality announced the 2011 Honorees for the 2011 Chinatown Summer Street Festival with the theme, “Building Green and Healthy Communities.”  The honorees include Dylan House – Program Manager at Hester Street Collaborative, Kirsti Bambridge – Outreach Coordinator at Partnerships for Parks, Sheelah Feinberg – Executive Director, NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, John Leo – Public Affairs at Con Edison, Wilson Soo –  Program Associate at Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and Lisa Kaplan – Chief of Staff for Councilmember Rosie Mendez.

Weekend Kids’ Pick

This Sunday, August 7, from 11-4, Asian Americans for Equality hosts its annual Chinatown Summer Streets Festival. Held in Columbus Park and along Bayard between Baxter and Mott Streets, the festival promotes Chinatown businesses and highlights the cultural and historical richness of the community. The Hester Street Collaborative will bring the “Waterfront on Wheels” – used to educate and encourage participation in the planned open space being developed on the East River.

New Report Looks at Asian Population in Chinatown and Beyond

A newly released report looks at how the Asian American population in neighborhoods across the city, including in Manhattan’s Chinatown, is changing.  According to the analysis of Census data by the the advocacy and housing organization, Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), the Asian population in New York City is growing rapidly and dispersing beyond historical ethnic enclaves.

Housing Group Identifies Buildings Being “Intentionally Neglected”

128 Hester Street.

In Albany, the annual battle over New York’s byzantine rent laws is starting to heat up. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver might refuse to extend a tax break benefiting real estate developers unless Republicans agree to strengthen rent control legislation.

Even in the past two years (when Democrats had control of the Senate), rent reform went nowhere. Now that the GOP has retaken the chamber, prospects look bleak.  But many housing advocates are undeterred.  A prominent Chinatown organization, Asian Americans for Equality, has just released a report designed to influence the ongoing debate.

The report, “Demolition through Intentional Neglect: a tactic of predatory landlords to demolish rent-regulated Housing,” analyzed building violations throughout the city. It found that 99 buildings citywide  are “structurally compromised.” Fourteen of those buildings are in Lower Manhattan.

More on the Threatened Demolition of 289 Grand

We have more now on the future of 289 Grand, one of four buildings ravaged in last month’s 7-alarm fire. As we reported this morning, the landlord, Wong’s Grand Street Realty, notified residents it intends to terminate their leases and demolish the building.

Chris Kui of Asian Americans for Equality told us his organization is representing tenants in at least 10 of the building’s apartments. This afternoon, they filed a lawsuit in New York City’s housing court disputing the landlord’s decision to tear the building down.

Grand Street Fire Update

Contractors are working quickly to take down the Grand Street buildings destroyed by fire one week ago. This was the scene yesterday afternoon — workers hovering above the wreckage, carefully removing the top floors of 283 and 285 Grand.

On Saturday, about 100 displaced tenants staying in Midtown hotels were relocated to different hotels in Harlem and Queens. The shift was upsetting to many of the residents, who at least for now, are far removed from their community. City officials tell the Daily News “We want to get them back close to their home community for schools and things like that.”

Dramatic New Photos Show Devastation Caused by Grand Street Fire

From Grand Street, the destruction caused by Sunday night’s fire looks bad enough. But this morning, we have new photos taken from inside 289 Grand (the building on the corner of Grand and Eldridge Streets) illustrating the full extent of the devastation to two neighboring buildings.

The photos were taken by Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality. Yesterday afternoon, he was taken inside the heavily damaged (but salvageable) building by an official with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).  The city made the call earlier this week to demolish 283 and 285 Grand. The photos after the jump help explain why they made that decision so quickly.

Body of 87-Year Old Man Removed From 285 Grand; Photos Documenting 283 Grand’s Disrepair Last Year

This evening, firefighters located the body of an 87-year old man, who was trapped in the top floor of an apartment building that was destroyed in a last night’s Grand Street fire. Sing Ho becomes the first fatality in the disaster that had already left more than 90 people homeless and destroyed three buildings. The man’s whereabouts were unclear earlier in the day. But as night fell on Chinatown, it became increasingly apparent that he likely did not make it out alive. Ho’s body was removed from 285 Grand Street late tonight.

Also this evening, more attention is being focused on the owner of the buildings that caught fire. The lead in the New York Times article posted a short time ago reads:

The building in Chinatown where an enormous blaze started late Sunday night had more than two dozen open violations for hazardous conditions, including missing smoke detectors, lead paint and other problems that signified a history of neglect, city records show.

As we reported earlier today, the owner of the buildings is Fair Only Realty in Flushing, Queens. They did not return calls from the Times seeking comment.But reporter Colin Moynihan notes:

The owners put the buildings, which were home to two ground-level stores and 30 apartments, on sale for the third time in five years in December, asking $13.5 million, according to Central City Brokerage, which carried the listing. Before the fire, the asking price had been dropped to $9.25 million. Of the 30 apartments, five were rent-controlled, 23 were rent-stabilized and two were rented at market rate, according to the listing.

Last July, a resident of 283 Grand went to Asian Americans for Equality for help in dealing with her landlord. The organization, which advocates for tenants, shared with us some of the photos taken at that time inside the apartment and in the building’s public areas. The pictures are meant to illustrate that the owner failed to properly care for the building and, perhaps, helped create dangerous conditions:

Water damage around bathtub.

Damaged bathroom ceiling. Tenant used cardboard to prevent more ceiling fragments from falling.

Emergency light wires exposed and improperly installed.

Water leak in public hallway.

Collapsing ceiling in public hallway.

Collapsed ceiling near skylight, in rooftop area.

Elderly Man Missing After Grand Street Fire

An elderly man who was inside one of the apartment buildings that went up in flames on Grand Street last night has not been accounted for. City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who has spent most of the day on the scene, explained the situation to reporters a short time ago.

Two Grand Street Buildings Likely to Be Demolished, Housing Advocates Examine Fire Code Violations

We just returned from the scene of the Grand Street fire. Officials from the Fire Department and the Dept. of Housing Preservation & Development briefed City Councilmember Margaret Chin a short time ago. They have determined that two out of three of the buildings damaged last night will probably be demolished, due to safety concerns. They have been trying to reach the owner of the buildings, but as of an hour ago,  had not been successful. A final decision about demolition will be made at 5pm.