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Turning 30….It’s one of those significant birthdays for people. For a community organization, it might be even more significant. We are celebrating our 30th birthday by doing what we have done--preserving and creating affordable housing in the Northwest Bronx--and by taking on new ways of doing it. 

In the course of 30 years, UNHP has changed as the Bronx and New York City have changed.  Our upcoming affordable housing forum on May 1st serves as an example of our evolution. The title of our report and forum is Nowhere to Go: A Crisis of Affordability in the Bronx. It points to the fact that the “most affordable borough” is actually the least affordable as many people are paying more than half of their income on rent -- even a majority in one of our community districts!

Nowhere to Go also references the plight of a growing number of homeless families and individuals who currently have no clear path to permanent housing. Their plight brings to mind the words of the late Northwest Bronx leader, Anne Devenney: “Don’t Move – Improve!” This was our rallying cry in the mid-'70s as people in the Northwest Bronx organized to stop abandonment, reclaim vacant buildings and improve living conditions. The success of those efforts gives us the basis for our hope and faith that this latest crisis of affordability can be addressed.
Even after 30 years, much of our work continues to address the aftermath of redlining and disinvestment in the Bronx; issues that brought about our creation in 1983 as a community lending entity.  Today, we still manage community development loan funds, but our work to identify and address distressed multifamily housing, create new affordable housing and bring needed resources to the Northwest Bronx plays a larger role in our community development work.

The West Farms Project, our latest endeavor in affordable housing development with our partner organization, Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation (FBHC), is more than 99% complete and in the punch list phase.  West Farms consists of 8 buildings with 526 units built in 1973 with the majority of tenants on Section 8 rental subsidy. In addition to the completed housing renovation, the project features new playgrounds and community rooms for the tenants, whole building recycling, and community service programs. Fordham Bedford Community Services is gearing up to provide after-school programs in the newly renovated community rooms, and on March 22 about 45 children participated in an Easter egg hunt on the grounds of the project. 
Housing research, advocacy and organizing are combined in our work to identify and improve distressed multifamily housing through the UNHP Multifamily Assistance Center and the Building Indicator Project (BIP). On February 15 at the downtown offices of Enterprise, UNHP held its annual Multifamily Assistance Center meeting to share research and data on the state of multifamily properties in NYC with representatives from 21 banks.

UNHP expects to see even greater improvement in distressed properties after Benjamin Lawsky, Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), recently announced that BIP will be used by DFS to review the quality of a bank’s multifamily portfolio.  He stated that Community Reinvestment Act credit should not be issued to NY State-chartered depository institutions for buildings that are in serous disrepair. Read more about how BIP has been used by banks and community groups on our website.
Why does an affordable housing group prepare taxes? Our work with local homeowners informed us of the extent to which predatory loans were being pushed in our neighborhoods, along with other high cost financial products such as Refund Anticipation Loans (Rapid Refund). Armed with both a reinvestment mission and a call from neighborhood residents and community leaders, UNHP created a free tax program in our neighborhood. 

This year, the program served more Bronx residents (1,674), offered more on-site and mobile tax days (32) and had more volunteers (89) than ever. Working with our partners, Fordham Bedford Community Services and Ariva, and our many trained volunteers from Fordham University, Manhattan College, and the Capital One Student Bankers Program, UNHP was able to assist low-income Bronx residents in preparing their taxes for free and avoiding high cost preparation fees and the lure of rapid refund loan products. We also successfully enrolled clients in UNHP’s other financial education services; financial education workshops, one-on-one financial coaching, foreclosure prevention counseling, first-time homebuyer counseling and small business assistance. 25 of our unbanked or underbanked clients opened low-cost bank accounts with Spring Bank and Citibank, helping them avoid check cashing fees.  

Read more about our work at the Northwest Bronx Resource Center and about some of our many clients on UNHP’s Blog, Views from Northwest Bronx.

Thank you for your support and participation in our work through the years.  We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday, May 1st at our 30th Anniversary Affordable Housing Forum at the Rosehill Campus of Fordham University in the Faculty Lounge at 8:30 am. RSVP through our website or via or by phone (718) 933-3101.   

30 years later and the Bronx is still worth fighting for -- join us! 

James Buckley
Copyright © 2013 University Neighborhood Housing Program, All rights reserved.
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