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The absolute deadline for income tax returns is still a month and a half away, but residents of the Queensbridge, Ravenswood, Astoria and Woodside public housing projects are getting into gear, thanks to an ambitious nonprofit program in Long Island City.
The East River Development Alliance, a coalition of churches and tenants’ associations, is offering free tax preparation for public housing residents.
Entering its fifth year, the tax prep program outgrew its old location in the church’s basement and moved into a storefront on 40th Avenue.
Bishop Mitchell Taylor, founder of ERDA, said the program anticipates helping 1,200 residents with their returns, up from 1,074 last year. He also pointed out that the tax preparers can help residents set up bank accounts so that their refunds can be electronically transferred within a week of filing, preventing people from taking out loans against their projected refunds that charge exorbitant interest rates.
“Don’t get two−thirds of your money,” he said. “Get all of it.”
The program also gets residents involved in financial counseling, which he bragged has helped participants in the program for 12 months save an average of $2,600.
“Sometimes working people just need some assistance, guidance and rescue to put them on the path to middle−class life,” said City Councilman Eric Gioia (D−Sunnyside), who helped Taylor start the tax prep program. “Taxes can be confusing and complex and intimidating. Most folks can’t afford a lawyer or an accountant.”
For Versie Martin, 57, the program helped her make use of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a feature designed to help low−income individuals.
“I got about $400 more,” she said. “It just goes to show you who you get to do your taxes matters.”
Another woman, Ellen, who declined to give her last name, also came to ERDA last year after giving up on H&R Block.
“They became a disaster, and to have a private accountant do it is too expensive.”
Stephanie Vinson, who manages the tax preparation office and runs ERDA’s Building Wealth Academy, said appointments at the office have been booked solid all season long.
“These are not folks who are waiting until April 15 to pay taxes,” she said. “They’re getting a substantial boost to their income.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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