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Urban Upbound launches its first worker cooperative

Bishop Mitchell Taylor (r.) unveils plans for Urban Upbound’s first “worker cooperative” that will help break the cycle of poverty at the Astoria Houses.
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The sign above the entrance to the offices of Urban Upbound says “Need a job?” It’s a question the non-profit organization has been asking residents of the Astoria Houses for more than a decade as it provides residents of public housing with the tools and resources needed to achieve economic mobility and self sufficiency, and to break the cycle of poverty.

It was at the Astoria Houses, where 47 percent of the residents are unemployed or underemployed, that officials from the New York City Housing Authority and Citi Community Development announced the launch of “Doorways to Opportunity” July 16. It is a $1.4-million multi-partner initiative that will provide NYCHA residents with access to employment training, jobs, financial counseling, tax preparation services and business development support.

Bishop Mitchell Taylor, the co-founder of Urban Upbound, used the event to launch its own game-changing “worker cooperativ­es,” where employees will have to option to buy shares and become owners of the companies they work for. The first of these worker-owned businesses is On Point Security.

“We’re operating a new paradigm for breaking the cycle of poverty,” Taylor said. “We’re going to break the cycle of poverty from the inside, from the ground up, and if it works here in New York City, it will work around the country.”

On Point Security has hired and begun training nearly 40 residents of Astoria Houses. Urban Upbound will own the business for one year and then hand over control of the firm to the employees.

“At that point they’ll (each) have a share, a percentage of the company,” On Point Security General Manager Fritz Vincent said. “Now they’ll own something and they’ll have a say in how the business is going to be run and have a say in how their wages are going to look. A lot of the time workers never get to see what goes on behind the curtain. This allows them to see and know how a business is run, and make some really educated decisions on how to run it.”

On Point Security will train guards to provide security for buildings, nightclubs and special events with an eye on the future of Hallets peninsula, where the massive Hallets Point residential complex, with its 2,000 units, is set to begin contruction this fall. Construction on Astoria Cove will follow, with another 1,700 apartments.

Each complex will include supermarkets, retail and banks. On Point Security will be ready to provide services for each business.

Astoria resident Kyle Jerry, 26, was one of the first hired by On Point Security.

“It’s an opportunity, a great opportunity and I appreciate it,” he said. “Now we have to do the hard work and train to become the owners.”

Claudia Coger, the president of the Astoria Houses, believes the launch of On Point Security is the best thing to happen at the Astoria Houses after “three decades of neglect.

“This was deserted ground, closed off for many years until Urban Upbound opened here 10 1/2 years ago,” she said. “Now we’re going to heal from the inside out. We’ll keep our money in our community. There’s a divine movement here at Astoria Houses and we know that tomorrow is going to be greater than today.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

Updated 1:29 pm, July 24, 2015
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