By Jeremy Walsh
Following on the heels of last year’s opening of a bank branch nearby, the East River Development Alliance is preparing to open a landmark credit union to serve public housing residents in Long Island City.
The credit union — the first in the state in 10 years — is expected to be open in April, although organizers have not set a date, said Bishop Mitchell Taylor, ERDA’s founder. First, the space at 13-01B 40th Ave. will be used as a tax preparation facility for residents of the Queensbridge, Ravenswood and Astoria houses as it has for several years.
“The space has been fully and completely renovated,” Taylor said. “We’re going to do tax prep one more time, but the way that we’ve renovated the space is that we have all the equipment, the cameras and the security stuff in place. Only thing we left open was the teller stations so that once we finish tax prep we’ll be able to just put the teller stations in and begin operation.”
Financial responsibility has been hard to come by in these neighborhoods, where a study the nonprofit conducted showed that 30 percent of residents did not have bank accounts. Even those who have accounts often use check-cashing businesses, incurring as much as $600 a year in fees.
“That’s a lot of money if you’re making the average income of $22,000 a year — take home $14,000 a year,” Taylor said.
Establishing a credit union — a nonprofit financial institution owned and operated by its members offering loans at affordable rates — has been a central component of ERDA’s strategy to improve life in the western Queens public housing projects since the nonprofit was founded in 2004. Taylor and former City Councilman Eric Gioia succeeded in getting an Amalgamated Bank branch to open on 21st Street between Queensbridge and Ravenswood in October 2008, which the bishop regarded as a good start.
“Some people have terrible credit, some people have no credit, some banks won’t even deal with them,” Taylor said.
The most difficult part of getting the credit union open has been raising the operating budget for the first year, Taylor said, although he noted the group has secured $1.2 million in deposits from non-credit union members.
Immediately after Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the bishop a shout-out in his State of the City address last week, ERDA volunteers congregated at the storefront to call all the residents who had pledged to open accounts. They hope to open between 800 and 1,000 in their first year.
The fledgling credit union received high praise from the area’s elected officials, too.
State Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Sunnyside) said she and her staff helped Taylor set up a number of the initial meetings as the plan progressed.
“We’re thrilled,” she said. “We think it’s long overdue.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) also expressed his excitement.
“I think the credit union is a great victory for the community and I think it is a great service,” he said.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.