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. Thanks to our partners as well as our amazing trained volunteers, UNHP was able to assist 1,504 tax filers with an average AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) of $17,936. The majority of Bronx residents who use our tax program are African American or Latino/a (88%) and 22% of tax filers speak Spanish as their primary language. 98% of filers received a refund and over $2M in refunds were processed through our site. 22% of filers received the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for a total value of $743,238.91. Volunteers provided 1,163 hours of support for the program.
The UNHP Free Tax Prep program, offered in partnership with Fordham Bedford Community Services and Ariva, is more than just taxes. UNHP, active on social media, utilized the hashtag #morethantaxes to highlight the range of our work with Bronx residents, volunteers and community partners during tax season.
Working with local colleges, UNHP trained over 90 volunteers to become certified IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) volunteers as tax preparers, intake specialists and greeters. This year volunteers from Fordham University, Manhattan College, Lehman College, College of Mount Saint Vincent, and City University of New York (CUNY) were the backbone of our program. The participation of the College of Mount Saint Vincent was new this year – as a result of service learning class – great new addition!
Tax Plus Team
Grown-ups volunteer at UNHP, too! UNHP’s Tax Plus Team consists of working or retired tax, finance or business professionals who, like our student volunteers, were certified as VITA tax preparers, greeters or intake specialists. In addition to working with individuals and families within the IRS VITA income range, our Tax Plus Team assisted people outside of the income range for VITA; more than $30,000 for an individual and more than $55,000 for a family. UNHP is pleased to extend the benefits of free, professional tax preparation to those low and moderate income people who are just outside the VITA income limits as well as our financial and housing services. New this year, bankers from HSBC participated in HSBC’s volunteer engagement program with UNHP. Nine HSBC bankers assisted at intake, greeting, and Housing Connect enrollment. The HSBC volunteers were a welcome addition to our program; their financial skills, customer relation abilities, and overall professionalism provided a great example for our student volunteers and set our tax filers at ease.
Senior Citizen Mobile Days
While most tax days are held at Fordham Bedford Community Center’s Refuge House, home to the UNHP Northwest Bronx Resource Center, UNHP is willing to take our tax program on the road to assist senior citizens in the community rooms of their affordable housing residences. UNHP provided on-site tax preparation services at three low-income senior citizen developments this year; UNHP’s Rose Hill Apartments, and Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation’s Serviam Campus and Edison Arms.
Housing Connect is the name for NYC’s online affordable housing lottery. Given the affordability crisis in the Bronx, there is a high demand for this service by rent-burdened tenants seeking more affordable units. UNHP was named an HPD Ambassador in 2017 and has assisted interested and qualifying Bronxites to enroll in Housing Connect at Resource Fairs and once a week at the Northwest Bronx Resource Center. It is difficult for UNHP to meet the demand for this service. This tax season, UNHP offered Housing Connect services during our tax days. UNHP’s Claudette Sanes, our 2nd-year intern from Lehman College, coordinated the appointments and worked alongside volunteers, interns, and seasonal staff to assist 279 tenants in 373 sessions create or update a profile and/or apply for available affordable housing lotteries in the program.
Ariva Ready to Rent
Ariva, a leader in NYC free tax preparation, is our partner and the lead VITA agency for our tax prep program. Ariva also runs a free financial coaching program targeted at tenants who are seeking a new apartment through Housing Connect. Ready to Rent helps New Yorkers prepare to apply for affordable housing by providing free one-on-one financial counseling and assistance with affordable housing applications. UNHP Housing Connect applicants were able to meet one-on-one with a professional financial counselor from Ariva to review credit, calculate income for housing applications, and develop a savings plan for moving expenses.
Part of the Solution (POTS) Food Support Programs
Part of the Solution (POTS) offers a “single stop” to people in need, offering a wide range of assistance from meals to social services. Every tax Wednesday a POTS counselor was onsite at our tax program screening interested tax filers for food stamps, enrolling them as members of their food pantry and outlining the case management and other services available at their nearby offices. UNHP regularly partners with POTS around SNAP and other services, but having a counselor at our site is an added bonus.153 of UNHP’s tax clients met with the POTS counselor and were able to enroll in POT’s food pantry if interested, 35 were prescreened for SNAP and 6 people submitted an application.
Bank Accounts and Banking Programs
UNHP views tax time as an opportunity to share financial education services and low-cost banking products with our tax filers. Apple Bank for Savings has been a long-time partner opening bank accounts on-site to interested tax filers. Capital One’s 360 Program also joined us this year with special savings programs and assistance with their online bill pay and phone app.
Department of Finance NYC Rent Freeze
Thanks to a grant from Citi Community Development, the UNHP Northwest Bronx Resource Center began assisting seniors citizens and people with disabilities freeze their rent through NYC Department of Finance (DOF) SCRIE and DRIE programs in 2016. NYC DOF has participated at many of UNHP’s Resource Fairs and outreach events. This year, NYC DOF staff screened and enrolled close to 30 seniors and people with disabilities on site. Assistance was also provided to homeowners regarding the senior citizen real estate tax exemption.
Bronx Homeowner Clinic
UNHP organized a Bronx Homeowner Financial and Legal Clinic in the library at FBCS Refuge House, during one of our tax Saturdays. On a snowy March 2nd Saturday, The Legal Aid Society, New York City Department of Finance and Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition Weatherization Program offered Legal advice, enrollment in NYC Discount Tax Programs and information about low cost- energy saving and renovation programs to 7 homeowners.
UNHP Financial Services 2019 Survey
Thanks to UNHP’s Community Researcher Jacob Udell and the services of our Fordham International Political Economy (IPED) interns, UNHP created and administered a survey delving into the banking and financial practices of over 230 of our tax clients. Of those surveyed; 23% are unbanked, 16% rent a room, 41% receive SNAP benefits and 40% have no credit at all. UNHP will share more information about the survey soon on this blog and use the results to better tailor our programs, partnerships, and workshops.
UNHP’s tax prep program is in its 12th year and one of the best parts of the program is reconnecting with tax clients and catching up with their lives and in some cases personal, financial or housing successes.
UNHP values every one of our volunteers, but there are some who went the extra mile; assisting our tax program regularly and with increasing ability.
Thank you to our partners, funders, supporters, volunteers, staff and especially our Bronx neighbors, long-timers, and first-timers, that use our program!