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Queens Chronicle

Banking on success: Credit union serves Queensbridge houses

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Posted: Thursday, May 13, 2010 12:00 am

Since officially opening its doors on April 26, the East River Development Alliance Federal Credit Union in Long Island City stands out as one of few financial institutions near Queensbridge Houses, the nation’s largest public housing complex.

Banners throughout the area, proclaim ERDA’s intentions of “building a city for everyone.”Even nearby garbage receptacles advertise one of the alliance’s reasons for being: “We help people find jobs.”

Amid the paint-chipped building facades, graffiti-marked bodegas and shuttered storefronts that are commonplace in the neighborhood, the spanking new credit union located at 13-03B 40th Ave. offers something different.

“We’re making average people bankers,” said Bishop Mitchell Taylor, founder and president of ERDA. “We wanted to address the socio-economic needs of this community. We’re making sure our public housing neighbors have the same access to goods and services [as residents in other areas of the city].”

The ERDA FCU has already signed up approximately 50 members, setting a pace that would surpass ERDA’s goal of 700 new members per year, according to a spokesperson.

According to Taylor, there hadn’t been a credit union in the neighborhood, which includes four major residential developments: the Ravenswood, Queensbridge, Astoria and Woodside Houses, until his efforts resulted in the recent opening of a lone branch.

“A credit union is different from a bank,” he pointed out.“A member becomes an owner. In banks you only lease the space. We are a financial cooperative.”

Taylor, who grew up in the area, said he had a desire “to change public housing from the inside out and from the bottom up.”

He sees the credit union as a vehicle through which individuals can gain access to capital and establish or rebuild their credit history.

“We can set the criteria for loans that mainstream banks would not be able to do,” he said.He suggested that one could become eligible for a loan by working with financial counselors or by attending money management classes, opportunities which are made available through ERDA. “We can control our own destiny,” he said.

Calling the credit union “a community initiative,” Taylor explained that it actually started to take shape in 2006 when ERDA founders, tenant association presidents, residents and many others began discussing solutions to the lack of affordable and relevant financial services in the neighborhood.

A survey conducted by ERDA found that three out of 10 Queensbridge residents did not have a bank account, and among those who did, many still used costly check cashing services.

The credit union’s opening is seen by many as an historic event.It is the first new credit union to open in New York City in a decade and the first to open in Queens in 30 years. It is also the first credit union to be chartered by the National Credit Union Administration during President Barack Obama’s tenure.“Right now, we have members coming in to open accounts and we’re working hard to expand our products and services,” said Carmen Simon, the credit union’s CEO.

Membership applications are available at the ERDA FCU branch office or at erdalliance.org and require a minimum deposit of $10 plus a one-time lifetime membership fee of $15.Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, studies or volunteers in Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside, as well as members of their families.

Earl Williams, a 10-year resident of Queensbridge, stopped by recently to open an account.“I was interested in joining because it helps the community,” he said. “A lot of people don’t have enough money and the credit union can help them save.Later, they can take out a loan. This is something small that can become something big.”

Elaine Williams, an education assistant at nearby PS 111 and unrelated to Earl, said she was waiting for publications that would provide her with additional information about the credit union.

“I also want the information for the other staff members at the school,” she said.“I want to find out what their services are. I’m interested in saving money.”

The awning over the credit union’s storefront, located at 13-03B 40th Ave., bears the slogan, “Making your money work for you.”Who wouldn’t like to see that happen?

For further information, call (718) 784-5050.

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