Understanding the Diversity within Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities and Responding to Housing Insecurity and Homelessness
By: Linda Xiong
“Our ultimate objective in learning about anything is to try to create and develop a more just society than we have seen.” Yuri Kochiyama, Passion for Justice documentary
Yuri Kochiyama was an American Civil Rights activist who fought for all forms of justice during and beyond the Civil Rights Movement. She is someone I often turn to when looking for inspiration and direction, especially during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. In keeping with the quote above, as an Asian American, specifically a Hmong American, I hope to highlight the diversities within Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and as a result, the opportunities that come with addressing housing instability for this particular group.
Based on projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Asian American population is estimated to increase 74 percent from 20.5 million in 2015 to 35.7 million in 2040, making it the fastest-growing racial population. The Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander population is also estimated to increase 63 percent from 1.5 million in 2015 to almost 2.3 million in 2040. To bring it home, Texas is the third state with the largest population of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), after California and New York respectively. And the majority of the AAPI population in Texas live in Harris, Dallas, and Fort Bend counties.
We must embrace and act upon the diversity within the AAPI community. This community includes people who are from or can trace their lineage to East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Hawaii, and more. In Texas, the AAPI population in order from highest to lowest population includes: Asian Indian, Vietnamese, Other Asian (an open category of various subgroups), Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and Japanese. While this general population data is disaggregated, much of the data collected on AAPIs is not disaggregated and therefore, does not showcase the disparities within this group. An example of the importance of disaggregated data can be found in wealth inequality. While some Asian Americans have accumulated a large amount of wealth compared to their White counterparts, Asian Americans are the most economically divided racial group in the U.S. By unearthing these disparities, we can dispel the “Model Minority” myth and more specifically, understand how they have a direct impact on housing instability. A recent report by the National CAPACD and the University of California, Los Angeles found that AAPI homeowners and renters face severe housing cost burdens and overcrowding. For instance, “one in four AAPIs pay more than half of their income toward housing costs compared to whites (16 percent), putting many on the edge of financial vulnerability.” This is tied to homelessness because households who are severely cost-burdened begin to experience rapid increases in homelessness.
On a single night in 2020, there were 7,638 Asian neighbors experiencing homelessness and 8,794 Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders experiencing homelessness across the U.S. Even though both groups represent a small percentage of the total number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night and the total population in general, it is important to note that they are, in fact, experiencing homelessness. And as a result, we must uncover the similarities and embrace the differences in their experiences compared to other populations experiencing homelessness and actively include them in our movements to end homelessness and housing insecurity. For example, the aforementioned report by the National CAPACD and the University of California, Los Angeles recommended increasing access and improving services for the growing AAPI population, including increasing funding for linguistic and culturally competent services, disaggregating data to understand wealth, housing, and financial disparities, and establishing or strengthening partnerships and networks. Although the report was analyzing the housing counseling industry, these recommendations can be definitely applied to housing and homeless service providers. As we work towards ending homelessness, we must come together to proactively engage with AAPIs who are experiencing homelessness and move away from a one-size-fits-all approach and towards a person-centered approach.
National CAPACD and CNHA. (2016). Our Neighborhoods: Asian American and Pacific Islander Anti-Displacement Strategies.
National CAPACD and the University of California, Los Angeles. (2020). Crisis to Impact: Reflecting on a Decade of Housing Counseling Services in Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities.
PBS. (2020). Asian Americans.
Tran, V. (2018). Asian Americans are falling through the cracks in data representation and social services. Urban Institute.