April 2, 2014

We are the Northwest Bronx

by UNHP
Olive, pictured with volunteer and fellow Bronxite Joanie, at UNHP's Free Tax Prep Program.

Olive, pictured with intake volunteer, fellow Bronxite & health professional, Joanie, at UNHP’s Free Tax Prep Program.

UNHP’s 2014 Free Tax Preparation Program was a resounding success! UNHP and our partners Ariva and Fordham Bedford Community Services helped clients receive $1.7 million in fee-free refunds, and access our wide range of financial education programs. Over 80 VITA trained student volunteers from Fordham University and Manhattan College provided the tax power for our program. As UNHP’s 2014 tax season draws to a close, we reflect on the privilege of meeting and assisting over 1,400 residents in our community.

Olive, was born in Jamaica, trained to be a Registered Nurse in England and was sponsored by Montefiore Hospital to work as a nurse in the Bronx 45 years ago. Olive lived close to Montefiore Hospital with her family and they were active in St. Ann’s parish across the street. “I love the Bronx” – my family was close to everything, school, work, church, shopping and transportation. Her two grown sons, one English and the other American, are both successful - one attended Georgetown University on scholarship and is in business and the other attended Northeastern University and is an engineer.

Olive worked as an RN at Montefiore and the Bronx Veterans Hospital before becoming a supervisor at two different nursing homes. “I liked to try new things and see how the other side works”

Olive currently lives in the Fordham Hill Oval cooperatives in the University Heights section of the Bronx, right off Fordham Road. Fordham Hill is a gated community with 1,130 apartments in nine high-rise buildings. She likes Fordham Hill and finds it safe, clean and the people are friendly. She feels her maintenance is high, but “they don’t raise it every year.” Olive, retired and on a fixed income, paid $100 to a tax preparer in the past, but was happy to find free tax preparation at UNHP.

2 year old Darias, pictured here with his iPad and his mother, Sheryell.
2 year old Darias, pictured here with his iPad and his mother, Sheyrell.

The first thing you notice about Darias, age 2, is that he is adorable. The second thing you notice is that he is smart as a whip! Darias, eyes sparkling mischievously, spoke in full sentences and was quite facile with his Mom’s iPad. Darias stays with a babysitter while Sheyrell works as a clerk at Montefiore Hospital. Sheyrell has her name on a few group daycare waiting lists and is already thinking about Darias’s education. Sheyrell, like most Bronxites, has had her share of financial struggles, but she is lucky enough to have an affordable apartment developed and managed by Fordham Bedford Housing Company and to be a member of 1199, a large healthcare union that offers sick leave, health and other benefits and job security. Living in a FBHC building provides security, too. When tenants first apply for a FBHC apartment, they are matched with rents that are no more than 30% of their incomes. Many Bronx residents pay over half of their incomes on rent as cited in our report Nowhere to Go, leaving little disposable income for daycare, food, and other daily living expenses. Sheyrell and Darias were happy with the service at UNHP. Sheyrell was pleased with her refund and the service and Darias made friends with another iPad carrying youngster. A good day for all!

Tax volunteer, Elizabeth, who helped Rosa with her tax return.
Tax volunteer and former UNHP intern, Elizabeth, is happy to help her neighbors in the Northwest Bronx with their taxes.

Rosa C. has been having a tough year. She is currently unemployed and looking for a new position. Rosa is raising two children, is active with her church and likes to help her neighbors, when she can. Rosa was thrilled to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit and is looking forward to her $10,000 return. Rosa is a graduate of the UNHP sponsored Getting Ahead Financial Education workshop, and plans to put her budgeting and savings skills to use. She plans “to spend it very wisely – new eye glasses, braces, tuition and savings” topped her list. Rosa was very pleased with the service and happy, during a time when she is struggling financially, to save on tax prep fees. UNHP is again working with Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners to offer the five session Getting Ahead Workshop.

SeedCo Health Navigators.
SeedCo Health Navigators were on-site to assist NWBronx residents with enrollment in the Affordable Care Act.

Calvin wears his work on his sleeve… and his cap and his jacket. As a seasonal employee for the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo, he came to his tax appointment dressed head to toe in WCS uniform and cap. Calvin found out about the job in maintenance himself and then turned to LIFT, to get assistance filling out the application. For the past four years, Calvin has worked from March to October at the zoo and collects unemployment while he is not working. The job does not offer benefits or health insurance, but Calvin has applied for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. Calvin cannot afford his own apartment and lives with his sister. “Yes, I would like a full-time job”, but both finding one and the application process are difficult for Calvin. UNHP partnered with LIFT and SeedCo this tax season to provide onsite screening and enrollment for food stamps and health insurance.

Mazie
Mazie, a country music artist, lives in Edison Arms, a former movie studio used by Thomas A. Edison.

Mazie lives in Edison Arms, a low-income 70 unit apartment building for seniors developed by Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation. She feels “blessed” to have gotten an affordable apartment as she was struggling to get by on Social Security. Mazie is a recent transplant from Delaware and is a self-taught guitar player. She came from a musical family and toured the US as a country music singer. She even played with Johnny Cash at a Pittsburgh County Fair. Mazie had a stroke last year and has had to slow down a bit, but still loves to sing and play guitar. She qualified for the NYC School Tax Credit and plans to use her $63 refund to pay bills and get her guitar fixed.

Not everyone who comes to the UNHP Free Tax Prep Program gets a refund. Starting in late March, the program sees many more self-employed people such as cab drivers, home health aides and daycare providers as well as immigrants with ITINs. For the most part they do not have taxes taken out of their income and are taxed at the 15% tax rate. Marcos D. is an immigrant from Peru and is seeking political asylum in the U.S. He is self-employed and picks up house cleaning and other jobs off of Craigslist. Despite having to pay about $900, Marcos was well-pleased with both the service and information he received at UNHP. UNHP connects our immigrant tax clients with our partner, Fordham Bedford Community Services for ESL and Citizenship classes.

Julio A. and his parents, Juan and Esbelin.
Julio A. and his proud parents, Juan and Esbelin.

For Julio A. filing taxes with UNHP is a family affair. His parents Juan and Esbelin are friends of UNHP and have taken our free financial education classes and filed their taxes with us for a number of years; “We’d been looking for a free location to file our taxes and were very pleased to have the process explained to us. We were also both able to attend the financial education classes and now our finances are more organized and we are saving regularly.” Julio, age 21, is finishing up his college education at SUNY New Paltz and majoring in Criminology and Sociology. He hopes to become a NYC Police Officer, as he wants a career with variety, purpose and one that would help him give back to his community. In addition to living and studying at New Paltz, Julio worked as a bartender, food service worker and barista in 2013. A family that avoids high-priced financial services together succeeds together!

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