April 25, 2019

UNHP’s 2019 #MoreThanTaxes Free Tax Preparation Program


The UNHP Free Tax Prep Program provided free, professional and accurate tax filings to 1,504 tax filers who earned an average of $17,936 (AGI) annually.

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.

Student volunteers

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!

Student volunteers are the backbone of UNHP’s Free Tax Prep Program – pictured above are just some of the 91 volunteers who logged in 1,163 hours as greeters, intake specialists and tax preparers. Many of our student tax preparers are accounting or finance majors at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business or Manhattan College’s O’Malley School of Business. Student volunteers from The College of Mount St. Vincent, CUNY, Fordham University, Manhattan College and Lehman College were an integral part of this year’s program.

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.

Grown-ups make great volunteers too! Here are some of our Tax Plus volunteers, many of them in this collage from HSBC Bank. Special thanks to Marie Pedraza, our HSBC contact and Sr. Regional Community Development Manager, who connected us with the Bank’s volunteer engagement program. All our Tax Plus volunteers bring a high level of skill and professionalism to our tax site inspiring our staff and student volunteers and putting 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.

UNHP’s Free Tax Program provided on-site tax prep services at three low-income senior citizens residences; UNHP’s Rose Hill Apartments and Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation’s Serviam Campus and Edison Arms. Former UNHP intern, Michael, (pictured right) volunteered with us to assist Korean- speaking seniors.고맙습니다

Housing Connect

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.

Claudette reviews a Housing Connect application with a Bronx tenant. Housing Connect is the NYC online affordable housing lottery for new buildings that have been built with NYC financing. The demand for this service is very high, but many of the Bronx residents in the communities we serve do not earn enough to meet the income requirements for the buildings on Housing Connect. More than 45% of households in our community earn less than $25,000/ year.

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.

Ariva’s Ready to Rent counselor, Greg, works with a Housing Connect applicant to review her credit, income, and savings. Ready to Rent financial counseling can help tenants make the best housing application by identifying credit issues that can be resolved, calculating accurate household income and encouraging savings to pay for a move if selected for an apartment.

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.

UNHP encourages tax filers to get banked as part of their tax day by inviting local banks to table and share information about products and services at nearby branches.. Apple Bank for Savings, Spring Bank, Citi and Capital One have partnered with UNHP during our tax season.

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.

An effective partnership with the NYC Department of Finance means that Bronx seniors and people with disabilities can freeze their rent. UNHP helps people enroll in SCRIE and DRIE once a week at the Northwest Bronx Resource Center. This year NYC DOF was on-site for select days and helped 28 tax filers apply for the rent freeze.

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.

Over 230 tax clients participated in UNHP’s Financial Services Survey. 23% of those surveyed are unbanked and 40% have no credit at all.

Tax Tales

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.

Arnold came in to do his taxes with UNHP last year and also to discuss an urgent housing problem. He lived in an SRO that was about to be foreclosed and was looking for a room or an affordable small apartment. UNHP knew a lottery for low-income seniors was opening up soon and Cathy submitted his application online. This year he came back to tell us he just moved into a beautiful one-bedroom apartment in that Bronx senior building. “I am overwhelmed by the beauty and size of my apartment. I never thought I’d live somewhere as nice as this”

Odilis met UNHP intern, Claudette, at the Saint Simon Stock Resource Fair in the fall of 2018. Odilis, a senior citizen, lives in a deteriorated walk-up apartment and was hoping to find something affordable and with an elevator. Claudette helped her apply for a senior apartment on Housing Connect and to Access-A-Ride. Her Access-A-Ride was renewed and she was called back for a 2nd interview for the affordable senior apartment in May 2019. ” I thank God and I thank Claudette” Good luck Odilis!

Edward is a long-time tax filer with UNHP. We met Edward at a local program run by a community partner where we were presenting on financial education. In addition to helping him file his taxes, our financial coach helped him resolve a case of identity theft. Edward was able to work with his social worker to gain entry into a “beautiful, gorgeous” 1BR on 204th Street and Webster Avenue. He is so pleased with the apartment, the building and that he could stay in the Bronx. His one complaint -“Metro-North train makes a little noise – but I’m getting used to it!”

Patricia was featured in one of our first blog posts in 2013. She was a first-time tax filer with UNHP and came to the site with her 9-year-old grandson, Jeremiah. She said she’d be back and she has come back every year for the past six years. Jeremiah, now 15, showed us the medal he won at his school robotics fair.

What a treat to see 1-year-old Amina and her Mom, Charlotte again this year! Amina was just a newborn when they came last year to enroll in Housing Connect. Even though Amina’s Mom has a rental subsidy, they have not been able to move from the shelter to permanent affordable housing. Charlotte, a working Mom, came in to file their taxes for free with UNHP. Mom keeps her application updated and applies for every lottery they qualify for on Housing Connect.

Volunteer Superstars

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.

Pictured above are our student volunteer superstars! Thanks, Matthew, Jinyu, Leidy, Sarah, and Christian for logging in extra hours, taking QR training and going the extra mile for your Bronx neighbors!

Here are our Tax Plus Superstars – Brendan, Bill, Anna (left center) and Peter. They volunteered consistently and on Saturdays as well as Wednesdays. Anna assisted Spanish speakers at intake, while Brendan, Bill, and Peter assisted both VITA tax filers and Facilitated Self Assistance filers. Evie, in the center photo with Anna, jumped in as a last-minute seasonal employee for UNHP – helping us manage the avalanche of calls during the tax season – she’s a superstar too!

Thank you to our partners, funders, supporters, volunteers, staff and especially our Bronx neighbors, long-timers, and first-timers, that use our program!

Volunteers work hard and deserve a lunch break! Pizza was a popular lunch menu item with an occasional birthday cake.