New York Retiree Volunteers to Ensure Affordable Housing for All

Daily Point of Light # 7780 Apr 1, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Peter Ho. Read his story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Meet Peter Ho, a dedicated volunteer at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) in New York. Trained as a public benefits counselor through the Advocacy, Counseling and Entitlement Services (ACES) Project, Peter has been specializing in aiding individuals apply for the different benefit programs they’re entitled to such as Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP and affordable housing. Since he started volunteering in December 2013, Peter has become a cornerstone of support for his primarily Chinese-speaking clients, many of whom are lower-income older adults facing language and technological barriers. Through his guidance, Peter has facilitated the submission of more than 1,000 applications and recertifications for affordable housing programs, helping his clients navigate a predominantly online and English-based process that would have been daunting without his assistance.

In the face of challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Peter’s commitment to his community didn’t waver. Recognizing the urgent need for support during the lockdowns, he volunteered his time whenever CCBA was open, ensuring that his clients continued to receive the help they needed more than ever. Even now, Peter remains steadfast in his dedication, offering in-person assistance once a week for five hours. His words of wisdom echo through the halls of CCBA: patience and perseverance are key to securing affordable housing This message has empowered countless individuals to navigate the complicated journey towards finding a place to call home.

Tell us about your volunteer role with the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA).

At CCBA, I work as a benefit counselor, just helping seniors understand the different benefit programs including health care and housing. I help them with the applications and also the recertifications of the housing application because even after they have found housing, they need to apply for recertification every one to two years.

Peter (second from left) stands with his fellow volunteers at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in New York. /Courtesy Peter Ho

What inspires you to volunteer?

I came to this country in 1992 because of my family. After working 20 years at the bank, I decided to take an early retirement. I wanted to use my skill and experience to give back to the country and community. Through volunteering, you’re helping other people, but it also helps you to continue improving yourself.

What inspired you to get started with this initiative?

CCBA is in Chinatown in New York City, so most of my clients are Chinese immigrants who do not speak English. Because they’re new immigrants who lack the language skill and they don’t know much about how to use computers or technology, I help them understand the benefit programs and submit applications. So, I wanted to use my language and technology skills to help them.

What are your long-term plans or goals for the organization?

I plan to continue volunteering for as long as I can and I hope that I can use my knowledge to train others so they can continue to help the community.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

The housing application is a long process. Some people have to wait up to four or five years. But when they finally get to move into their apartments, that moment is pretty rewarding. I also help some clients who already have housing but because of the high property tax, they can’t afford to pay their property tax, so I help them apply for the senior citizen tax exemption. For example, I recently had a client who moved from a single-family house to a condominium and their property tax jumped from $8,000 to $17,000. That $17,000 is more than their income. So I helped them apply for the senior tax exemption, which reduced their property tax by half. It’s moments like these that are rewarding.

How did the Covid pandemic affect these housing applications?

After the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, I went back to CCBA as it was one of the few centers in the city to have in-person service at that time. When I went back, I noticed that many of the public housing applications were terminated by the system because the system requires you to recertify every two years. Because of the lockdown, many of our clients were unable to come to CCBA to recertify their applications and their applications were getting terminated. I talked to the public housing department and reported the issue, but they said they couldn’t do anything. So eventually, I escalated the issue to ACES, and they coordinated with another agency to change the system so that applications would be automatically renewed. Due to this change, thousands of applications were not terminated during that period.

Peter (right) assists a client in applying for public benefits in New York. /Courtesy Peter Ho

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?

I think it’s important, particularly for seniors like me who have retired, because it helps them stay connected to society. Also, I think it can improve people’s social skills and other skills, in general. It not only benefits society, the people you’re helping, but it also benefits yourself.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Whatever volunteer work you do, you have to enjoy it. But specifically for benefit counseling, you have to have a background in technology because most of the time you have to use the computer to do research and also do the enrollment or recertification. You have to be patient, also, with your clients. Because some of the clients sometimes are not easy. You have to really spend the time to explain how the system and process works.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

That volunteering requires ongoing support and training to stay updated on the programs. I’m really lucky that I have help from the people at the ACES Project to understand all the different benefit programs and to support me.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Peter? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Alicia Lee