University Neighborhood Housing Program: An Ariva Partner Feature

When we opened our first tax site twenty years ago, we knew we were joining a relational and professional group of community organizers, banks, advocacy groups, and other nonprofits committed to expanding financial capabilities for families in the Bronx. A lot of work to provide access to capital and financial resources had come before us, including the dedication of our long-term partner, University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP).

Committed to community-based development, bank reinvestment, and lifting Bronx voices since 1983, UNHP works to create, preserve, and improve affordable housing and bring needed resources to the Northwest Bronx. Our former board member of 10 years, Jim Buckley, serves as UNHP’s founding Executive Director, starting as a tenant organizer with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition in 1976. He quickly saw the opportunity to establish community housing organizations to support tenant managers and tenants’ rights during a time when many Bronx buildings were being neglected or abandoned by landlords and the city. With the passage of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in 1977, Jim and the organizers knew financial institutions could get involved and help housing groups buy their properties.

“Banks were hesitant to lend to these new groups, but they were willing to lend to an intermediary. UNHP became that intermediary for several years when a few banks opened lines of credit with us; we loaned that money to help groups acquire property, and then refinance with a combination of city and bank money. When the banks recognized that the model worked, they started lending directly,” explains Jim. “Then UNHP developed more of an advocacy and research component, which is when we started our building indicator project. The project gathers data on approximately 70,000 NYC apartment buildings and tracks lender and violation information. We share this with the lenders, regulators, and community groups, which informs our ongoing work around community reinvestment.”

UNHP achieves its mission in three primary ways: as a community-based affordable housing developer, a Bronx-focused researcher, and, through the Northwest Bronx Resource Center, as a direct-service provider. Through the Northwest Bronx Resource Center, UNHP created an ecosystem of collaborative community partners who offer their expertise and provide various supportive social services that people can access in one place. For 13 years, the center hosted one of our free tax preparation sites—at its peak, filing over 1500 tax returns a year through the support of staff and 90+ volunteers. As a former satellite of Ariva, they built a community tax-preparation team, and we supported them with knowledge and oversight.

“It is really a true partnership. Ariva brought a tax site manager and provided the IRS expertise. We organized the human power behind it and offered the program to all of our clients,” shares Jumelia Abrahamson, Resource Center Director and the primary leader of the tax program. “Financial literacy and capacity building are at the core of all of our services.”

Today, UNHP remains a core partner as a host of our Ready to Rent program with a certified financial counselor on-site weekly, and by providing us with affordable office space at our Tremont location.

“The beauty of the Ready to Rent program is that it allows our apartment seekers to connect with a coach on site. The program gave us the opportunity to help our applicants create budgets, calculate household income, and improve their credit as they apply for housing lotteries and prepare for apartment interviews,” says Jumelia.

With the Bronx still having the fewest number of bank branches per capita in the country, UNHP joined the Bronx Financial Access Coalition to hold banks accountable to their CRA requirements, pressuring them to keep their branches open in the Bronx and continue to provide access to banking. The team at UNHP views their work as intersectional: from lending support to housing advocacy and offering direct one-to-one services, UNHP develops programs in response to their community as needs arise.

“We hear needs from tenants, community residents, and partners. We don’t want to recreate the wheel, but come together, either by using the space, tapping to our client base, or collaborating in different creative ways that can really move the community towards stability,” shares Jumelia.

Thank you to Jim, Jumelia and the entire team at UNHP for their service to the Bronx and for their continued partnership as we work together for the financial inclusion and economic prosperity of the Bronx. Learn more about their mission. Take advantage of our Ready To Rent program and one-to-one free financial help at the UNHP office by calling to make an appointment at (718) 933-2539.

If you’re still looking for free tax preparation nyc, we have four sites open year-round to help you file your taxes for this year or previous years, too. Schedule your appointment here.