With Election Looming, Velazquez Looks Towards Asian Constituents


Congresswoman Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez this week has written a letter to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) calling for the agency’s Customer Contact Center automated system to include audio instructions in Asian dialects.

But Yungman Lee, her Asian-American opponent in the upcoming June 28 Democratic Congressional Primary, dismissed the letter as nothing more than election pandering to a large constituency she’s ignored for years.

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez

In her letter,Velázquez, who represents Manhattan’s Chinatown and Sunset Park, noted that the automated phone system does not sufficiently meet the needs of Asian-language speakers.  The system provides audio instructions in English and in Spanish, while providing English language instructions for all other callers.

“Over 7,900 NYCHA families are Asian immigrants or of Asian heritage, and many of these residents are left perplexed and confused by its automated system,” wrote Velazquez, noting that according to NYCHA’s September 2015, Language Assistance Services Implementation Plan, Mandarin and Cantonese were the third most frequently encountered language requests in 2015.

While the report states that, “NYCHA has taken and continues to take reasonable steps to ensure [Limited English Proficient] persons have meaningful access to NYCHA’s programs and activities,” its Customer Contact Center’s automated system suggests otherwise,” she wrote.

A NYCHA spokesperson responded that the agency is committed to ensuring meaningful access to language services for all residents.

“To that end, we are expanding the languages spoken in the CCC’s greeting to include Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), as well as Russian, effective next week.  We are also reviewing additional options to continue to provide the best service to our residents,” the spokesperson added.

According to NYCHA, Mandarin and Cantonese, NYCHA’s two most requested Asian languages, represented jointly less than 5% of the non-English communications they received in 2015.

Additionally, NYCHA interpreted roughly 1,500 Chinese-language communications in 2014 through its Language Access Unit, and 6,155 communications (in Mandarin, Cantonese, Toishanese, Shanghainese, Hokka and Fukinese) through its’ Customer Contact Center.

Yungman Lee
Yungman Lee

The letter comes as Chinese-Americans are reportedly registering to vote in the thousands – particularly in the Brooklyn side of the district where there are no Chinese-American legislators – and there is growing discontent in the community about their lack of having somebody in elected office that speaks their language and understands their culture.

A point not lost on Michael Tobman, Communications Director for Lee, who dismissed the letter to NYCHA on behalf of her Asian-American immigrants as too little, too late.

“It’s obvious to everyone that, in seeking a 13th term, Ms. Velazquez has been more active in six weeks than she’s been in the past fifteen years, which only highlights the decades of missed opportunities her arrogant disconnect sadly presents throughout the diverse 7th District. Here’s a tip to whomever is advising the incumbent: “pandering” translates easily into Mandarin, Cantonese, or Fujianese,” he said.