By Rebecca Henely
The East River Development Alliance, a nonprofit that originated in the Queensbridge Houses dedicated to improving the lives of those in public housing, announced Monday not only a new initiative but a new office to house it in.
Outside of their new office in the Astoria Houses, members of ERDA announced the opening of the site at 425 Astoria Blvd. and 8th St. in Long Island City as well as a new program, Financial Independence Today, dedicated to helping residents who live in Queens public housing manage their money.
City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), United Way of New York City CEO Gordon Campbell, city Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea and Astoria Houses Resident Association President Claudia Coger spoke at the dual grand opening.
“Today is truly a celebration,” said Jeremy Selman, board president of ERDA.
Barbara Zerzan, vice president of operations for ERDA, said while the office opened and the FIT program has been in operation since early July, this was the formal announcement for both initiatives.
Jeremy Reiss, vice president for strategy, organizing and external affairs at ERDA, said the office cost $150,000 in city capital funds, which was secured by Vallone.
Vallone praised ERDA CEO Bishop Mitchell Taylor, who could not attend the conference but came up with both initiatives. Vallone said the FIT program would help residents learn how to budget their money.
“This isn’t a handout,” he said.
Campbell said United Way of NYC has been partnering with NYCHA and ERDA for years, which led to United Way funding the new initiative. United Way of NYC provided the $400,000 to begin the FIT program and carry it through for at least two years and was instrumental in its development, which Campbell said was based on similar programs in other states.
“We had a wealth of knowledge and research in this initiative,” Campbell said.
He said the program’s goal is to measurably improve finances of those in public housing. It will help residents reduce their debt, increase their credit scores and open bank accounts. This program will be available to residents of the Astoria, Baisley Park, Pomonok, Queensbridge and Ravenswood houses.
“Everyone deserves the fundamental building blocks to a better life,” Campbell said.
Reiss said the program and the office will expand in the coming weeks. The ultimate plan is to offer all of ERDA’s programs in the Astoria office. They also plan to build a kiosk for ERDA Federal Credit Union in the new office.
Rhea of NYCHA praised the program, saying it will help the 40 percent of city public housing residents and 70 percent of Queens public housing residents who are struggling to make rent payments this year.
“ERDA has just been an unbelievable beacon of hope,” he said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.
Note: This story has been corrected since publication to reflect the fact that the FIT program opened in July.