With 13 UNHP Free Tax Preparation days behind us, 1,000 tax filers assisted and seven more service days in front of us, UNHP can proudly say that we are meeting, and possibly exceeding, our goals for our 2018 program. The primary goal of the UNHP Free Tax Preparation Program is to provide free, professional, and accurate tax return filings for low-income individuals and families in our community. The UNHP program, offered in partnership with Fordham Bedford Community Services and Ariva, is more than just taxes.
Tax season is the time of year when UNHP will meet face to face with over 1,200 neighborhood residents and an opportunity to check-in on neighborhood issues, provide housing and financial information, schedule appointments for our Northwest Bronx Resource Center (NWBRC) services and provide on-the-spot assistance for SNAP enrollment, low-cost bank accounts, credit reports, and enrollment in the NYC Rent Freeze and Housing Connect. UNHP also capitalizes on the increased resident contact by hosting special events like the Housing Connect-A-Thon and Financial Fitness Event. Needless to say, we could not reach so many Bronx residents without the help of our partners, volunteers, and UNHP permanent and seasonal staff.
UNHP recruited and trained 88 students from local colleges. These volunteers, many from the Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business and Manhattan’s O’Malley Business School, undertake about 10 hours of online VITA certification training and then an additional 8 hours of classroom training at the Fordham Bedford Community Services Enterprise Heiskell Technology Center. 60 students have assisted on-site (13 of these student volunteers helped us last year, too!) and provided 631 volunteer hours to Bronx tax filers. In addition to our student volunteers, five adult volunteers provided a combined 76 hours of service to assist close to 40 tax filers self-prepare their returns using the United Way/H&R Block My Free Taxes site.
UNHP will see over 1,200 Bronxites face to face during taxes and work to use the opportunity to provide other services and information about financial and housing opportunities. Part of the Solution (POTS) attended the tax site located at FBCS’s Refuge House on Wednesdays and enrolled our interested tax clients into SNAP and provided information about other POTS services including access to their food pantry. Apple Bank for Savings was onsite providing information about low-cost bank accounts and financial products. UNHP offered information about our services at the Northwest Bronx Resource Center and enrolled interested tax filers in Housing Connect, the NYC Rent Freeze, pulled credit reports and made follow up appointments for 1:1 financial coaching.
Given the affordability crisis in the Bronx, there is a high demand by rent-burdened tenants seeking more affordable units. In addition to enrolling tax clients into the NYC Affordable Housing Lottery at regularly scheduled appointments and during the tax days, UNHP held two special Housing Connect events, one during our January Financial Fitness Event and another at the UNHP Housing Connect-A-Thon with Fordham students volunteers. The students were participating in an Ignation Day of Service, honoring St Ignatius the founder of the Jesuits. The 12 students quickly learned how to use the online Housing Connect platform and assisted 29 Bronxites enroll in Housing Connect and another 5 senior citizens apply for Serviam Heights. Ariva, our VITA tax preparation partner also runs a program called Ready To Rent, financial counseling to assist prospective tenants to review their credit, household income and moving budget as part of the Housing Connect process. The Ready to Rent counselor was on-site during the Financial Fitness Event, the Housing Connect-A-Thon and again in March seeing a total of 25 Housing Connect enrollees.