Faced with a Housing Crisis, Chinatown Residents Note the Absence of Media Coverage

NU Journalism student Jasmine Wu reports on the lack of media coverage on Chinatown’s housing crisis and gentrification:

Gentrification has become a factor of everyday life in Chinatown. But for a neighborhood located in the heart of downtown Boston, this burgeoning issue receives little coverage from major media organizations. And the stories that do cover this topic are frequently inadequate. Community newspapers are often the only outlets offering consistently in-depth coverage, and their readers are usually the very same people affected by the issues they cover. Without an increase in thoughtful coverage, one of Boston’s most celebrated neighborhoods may be doomed to a complete transformation without acknowledgement from the rest of the city.

“Chinatown is changing drastically,” said Chu Huang, co-chair of the CRA. “As gentrification hits, there is a deepening divide of socioeconomic inequality, and a misunderstanding and misconception of who actually lives in Chinatown today.”

According to a 2013 report by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the overall white population in Boston decreased between 2000 and 2010, while the white population doubled in Chinatown. During this same period of time, the Asian population in Chinatown decreased and now makes up less than half of all residents. In 1990, Asians made up 70 percent of Chinatown’s population.

The report also highlighted the changes in median household income. For white residents of Chinatown, the median household income was $40,554 in 2000. In a five-year average between 2005-2009, that number rose to $84,355. Meanwhile, the median household income for Asian residents dropped from $16,820 to $13,057. During those same years, the poverty rate for Asians increased from 39 percent to 44 percent, the highest poverty rate for any racial group in Boston. As the report notes, “This juxtaposition in the increase of median household income for whites and a decrease for Asians is a classic indicator that working class Asian immigrants are and will be priced out of Chinatown.”

Earlier this year, however, WBUR may have created a model for hyperlocal coverage by major news organizations. In July 2017, to increase and improve coverage of Dorchester and Mattapan, WBUR partnered with The Dorchester Reporter. Along with cross-publishing neighborhood stories, The Reporterhosts at least one WBUR journalist in its newsroom. This collaboration allows both organizations to expand their audience and improve their coverage.

Another solution for the lack of consistent hyperlocal coverage is greater diversity in media. News organizations should focus attention on Asian representation in the newsroom, said Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston.

“It makes a difference to have reporters who are from Asian-American communities,” he said. “There is a conception often among the leadership of news organizations that, while we need to respond to diversity to include large numbers of African-Americans and black people within the business, there’s not such a comparable need to include Asian-American personnel.” He added that it is often an issue of familiarity. “You don’t have people who are attuned to the community to the extent they could be from personal experience, background and sensitivity.”