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Foreclosures hit Queens’ South Asian community

The American Dream of prosperity and home ownership is collapsing on the borough’s South Asians as their mortgages balloon and banks move in to foreclose, deflating the stereotype of Asian prosperity, an advocacy group has found.

According to research conducted by two students of the Milano New School for Management and Urban Policy for the Jackson Heights−based CHHAYA Community Development Corp., South Asians made up the majority of homeowners facing new foreclosures in two Queens neighborhoods over the last six months and comprised a substantial percentage of those facing foreclosure in several others.

“A lot of research has indicated that Asians are not affected in the mortgage crisis,” said Seema Agnani, executive director of CHHAYA. “We wanted to find a way to dispel that myth.”

The nonprofit found that 53 percent of homes about to enter foreclosure proceedings in the Briarwood and Jamaica Estates area belong to South Asian families.

Some 50 percent of homes facing foreclosure in South Ozone Park also belonged to South Asian families. Jackson Heights was next, with 46 percent of the homes facing foreclosure belonging to South Asian families, followed by Kew Gardens and Woodside at 44 percent each, Jamaica with 42 percent, Queens Village with 38 percent, Richmond Hill at 35 percent, Ozone Park with 28 percent and Elmhurst with 27 percent.

The organization reached those figures by examining the last names of the homeowners, Agnani said. Including South Asians with Christian names and Indo−Caribbeans, the numbers are probably higher, she said.

“I think it really shines some light on the myth that all South Asians are prosperous,” said Sean Moss, regional director of the federal Housing and Urban Development Department. “The numbers show the reality of what’s going on.”

Lisa Hasegawa, executive director of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, praised CHHAYA for the research. Hasegawa said her national organization conducted a recent study with numbers from the Federal Reserve that cross−referenced ZIP codes with high foreclosure rates and large Asian−American populations.

“In New York state, those ZIP codes with the highest foreclosure and the highest Asian population was [in] Jackson Heights,” she said.

CHHAYA just became a HUD−certified counseling agency, joining 1,800 other groups throughout the country. It is the only group dedicated to the South Asian community, officials said.

Agnani said the group is trying to reach out to homeowners, many of whom may be reluctant to admit they need help with their finances. But she also said the group is working to identify lenders and mortgage brokers whose predatory lending practices may have most affected the South Asian community.

Keith Getter, a management consultant with the housing−counseling training nonprofit NeighborWorks America, said that in other communities of color, the road to foreclosure is often paved with good intentions on both sides.

“[Often] the person who was trusted ended up not being mindful of what the buyer could afford down the road,” he said. “It was your neighbor, who looks like you, who was the mortgage broker.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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