Deepening Roots and Creating Space: Building a Better Future for New York’s South Asians

Full Chhaya/DataCenter Report (PDF)
Click here to view the full report (PDF)

At DataCenter, we know that communities are experts about the problems and solutions affecting their lives. DataCenter helps surface that knowledge in ways that develop leadership, increase community power, and generate momentum for social change. As marginalized communities take the tools and power of research into their own hands, they produce accurate information about the urgent and pressing conditions of their lives, and they encourage others to do the same.

This is why we partnered with Chhaya Community Development Corporation (Chhaya CDC), a community-based non-profit organization focused on improving access to housing opportunities, resources, and information for South Asian Americans throughout New York metropolitan area.

Released at a public forum attended by over 100 community advocates and residents, elected officials and industry experts, the report titled “Deepening Roots and Creating Space” fills the data gap in informing policies that work. The keynote speaker Christina Lagdemeo, Deputy Director, White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders noted:

“The disaggregated data is helpful for policymakers so they understand more about the needs of our rapidly growing communities. We are working to understand what these changes in our country’s demographics mean for public policy. We see increasing numbers of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders representing influential positions, but many pockets of this community are in great need of basic protection and services.”

CHHAYADataCenter began the partnership with Chhaya in 2011, after they had collected their surveys and needed support in developing an analysis of the findings as well as compiling the government data.

Seema Agnani, Executive Director of Chhaya CDC, reflects on her experience working with DataCenter:

“DataCenter was the ideal partner for this project – they took our raw data, relevant Census and other government data, and pulled it all together to help us develop a cohesive analysis. What we appreciate most is that the process they used put the community voices and opinions at the forefront – taking into account official data and painting a picture of what things look like on the ground. It was great to work with a partner with the skills and expertise they have as well as a commitment to community voices. We couldn’t have done it without them!”

Findings from the report include:

  • The Bangladeshi community in NYC grew by 973% over the past two decades
  • Almost half of those surveyed held college degrees but only 8% were working in professional or technical jobs
  • Half of renters did not have leases, 41% paid in cash and many reported having to borrow to pay rent
  • In 2009, South Asians made up 65% of owners in foreclosure in the Briarwood/Jamaica Hills area and 56% in South Ozone Park
  • New Yorkers of South Asian descent grew by 160% in the last three decades

This report is based on information from more than 500 South Asian New York City residents on housing trends and conditions including overcrowding, evictions, and displacements among tenants and homeowners. Seema noted that:

“The stereotype of South Asians is often one of the wealthy Wall Street employee or physician, however, our findings show that only 8% of South Asians work in professional and technical fields. Instead many work in services industries as taxi drivers, hotel workers or retail staff.”

The findings highlighted the need for new approaches to housing, such as converting basement units into legal dwellings and allowing multiple family members on a mortgage, as well as the need for information on tenant rights in their own language.

Saba Waheed, research director at DataCenter and lead researcher on the project, highlights the importance of community based approaches to research,

“This ground breaking report shows that South Asians in working class neighborhoods in New York face a wide range of hardships, from housing instability and underemployment to language barriers and lack of access to services. Combining community perspectives with three decades of government data, the report provides powerful evidence for recommendations that are critical for this community as well as for all low income communities in New York City.”

For more information about this research partnership, or to partner with us, please contact Saba Waheed at or (213) 260-1631. Saba runs DataCenter’s Los Angeles satellite office, but you just might catch her taking Research Justice to your neighborhood. We’d love to hear what you think!

See how the Chhaya report has been covered in the press at The Village VOICE.

To view to full report, you’ll need the free Adobe Reader.

Click here to view the full report (PDF)