If everything goes according to plan, the East River Development Alliance, a community development organization headquartered in Long Island City, N.Y., will open the first minority-owned credit union in the New York City borough of Queens this April.
The ERDA Federal Credit Union will also be the first credit union chartered during the Obama administration and the first credit union chartered in New York State in a decade, the organizers said.
In order to build excitement for the new CU and to finish off the last of its financial requirements, the organizers have mounted a campaign to get 90 people or institutions during a 90-day period to donate at least $1,000 apiece to the effort. The credit union has already raised $49,000 from 29 donors and has 44 day left, as of this writing, to raise the remaining $46,000 to meet the self-imposed deadline.
Donors to the 90-day campaign effort include the United Nations FCU, Bethpage FCU, Melrose Credit Union, First American FCU, AmeriCU, Sperry Associates FCU, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Credit Union, Delaware Police FCU, Visions FCU and the New York Credit Union Foundation.
The effort has also received organizational, educational and technical expertise and assistance from the Brooklyn Cooperative Credit Union and the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, the organization said.
"Chartering of new credit unions has unfortunately become a rare event-only two new federal charters this year, both of them CDCUs. Therefore, for the CDCU movement, this is all the more reason to celebrate ERDA's accomplishment and congratulate them on the years of hard work that they put into this effort," federation CEO Cliff Rosenthal said when the credit union's successful charter was announced in December 2009.
Bishop Mitchell Taylor, is senior pastor of the Center of Hope International, a nondenominational church neighboring the public housing units where many of the ERDA FCU"s founding members live. He is also ERDA's founder and CEO. He said ERDA had always intended to offer residents in the areas its serves a credit union as a means of economically empowering themselves.
ERDA first organized residents to push for a bank branch, which they obtained in a nearby community, Taylor explained, but ERDA had always had a vision of a financial cooperative, a credit union, to serve as an economic empowerment vehicle for the residents.
"There is just a difference in owning the financial institution," Taylor said, adding that his father had been a member of a credit union in a nearby church and that had introduced him to the idea and benefits of a credit union. It's all part of bringing change, he said, "not from outside in but from the inside out."
"ERDA is dedicated to making public housing developments places of opportunity and neighborhoods which house a positive vision of the future for the people who live here. The establishment of this financial cooperative, owned by residents, is a crucial element to make resident empowerment and ownership real." said Taylor. "The opening of ERDA FCU in April will mark the next phase of ERDA's work for change, a model for every public housing neighborhood in New York City," he added.
And Taylor described a series of public housing projects and developments that need changing. According to ERDA, the areas from which the credit union will draw its members contains three large public housing projects: the Woodside, Ravenswood, Astoria and Queensbridge Houses. Queensbrige is the largest public housing development in the country. It spans six-square blocks, includes 96 buildings and is home to more than 10,000 residents. Ravenswood, Astoria and Woodside Houses are home to an additional 15,000 residents.
The average income of households in the communities is slightly more than half the average household income for New York City as a whole
To help organize such a large area, Taylor said he conceived of ERDA as an organization of organizations, that he and the other founding organizers built the organization out of contacts with tenant organizations, small businesses in the area, neighborhood associations and others. Since its founding five years ago, ERDA has launched an effort to help young people from the projects attend and graduate from college, help local resident fill out tax returns and obtain the earned income tax credits for which they may be eligible and create an adult education center to prepare residents for jobs. All of which, Taylor said, dovetailed well with the mission of the credit union.
"Five years ago, this whole area just had no financial institutions other than the check casher on the corner," he said "We looked at that and said that has to change."