By Rebecca Henely
Bishop Mitchell Taylor and City Council members came together in Queensbridge last week to urge public housing residents to take advantage of the East River Development Alliance’s free tax preparation sites.
“The clock is running and you need to get your taxes done,” said Taylor, the founder and president of ERDA.
Taylor’s organization focuses on helping public housing residents in western Queens become financially literate and has offered free tax return preparation assistance since 2005. This year ERDA has done 1,400 returns at its Queensbridge Houses tax preparation location and 300 returns at its Astoria Houses location, collecting almost $2 million in refunds for residents, Taylor said.
It is also the first year ERDA will not be doing it through the Food Bank.
“We’ve matured to the place where the IRS trusts us to do this independently of an oversight organization,” he said.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), a longtime ERDA supporter, said while many companies come to public housing offering paid tax preparation, many public housing residents qualify for free preparation. She said some residents also qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit for taxpayers who earn low and moderate wages, but she noted that professional tax services do not always understand how the credit works.
She urged public housing residents to save money and go to ERDA for free, saying its prepares have expertise in how the tax credit works.
“It is money that is yours to help make your life better or your family’s better,” Quinn said.
In addition to helping with tax preparation, ERDA can also help public housing residents save money by offering them the option of investing in its federal credit union.
Melissa Quan said the program helped her save $14,000 this and last year.
“Don’t hesitate to come here,” she said.
At a news conference about the tax preparation, Taylor praised the partnership ERDA enjoys not only with Quinn, but with Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), whose districts cover the Queensbridge, Woodside, Ravenswood and Astoria houses, which ERDA serves.
Taylor said he had described his vision for ERDA to Quinn and Vallone 10 years ago on a trip to Israel with the Jewish Community Relations Council. He received financial support from the council, which has allowed him to leverage hundreds of thousands of dollars in monies from elsewhere.
“I consider ERDA an institutional arm of the City Council with our City Council partners,” he said.
Van Bramer said Taylor’s vision for ERDA is about breaking the cycles of poverty and helping those in need to become financially literate.
“There are few things as important as reaching out to people who are struggling and giving them tools to succeed,” he said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhene