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Housing and Homelessness

Why We're Reporting On Life Inside Chinese Immigrant Boarding Houses

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I came to the U.S. from China in 2019 to study journalism at USC. I knew very quickly that wanted to learn more about the Chinese immigrant community here. It didn’t take long for me to learn about the overcrowded, squalid, dangerous and illegal boarding houses that so many of my countrymen live in.

This is especially true in the San Gabriel Valley, which has one of the highest concentrations of Chinese people in the U.S. So I set out to learn more.

I spent about eight months analyzing data pulled from housing and code enforcement records; I also visited boarding houses throughout the San Gabriel Valley, first as a graduate student and more recently while working with the investigative team at KPCC/LAist.

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I conducted more than 60 interviews — many in Mandarin — to get a better understanding of how tenants are living, who is benefitting from their living conditions and why substandard conditions persist despite vows by city leaders to crack down. One boarding house tenant told me:

"Look at our life here, living neither like a human or a ghost!"

This is the second in our investigative series looking into housing conditions in Southern California.

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