BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
A local non-profit organization, Urban Upbound, received a $100,000 grant from the Dept. of Small Business Services, to further its initiative of uplifting the public housing community in Astoria and Long Island City.
The competitive grant initiative, awarded to six winners earlier this month, is a part of the Neighborhood Challenge, which was launched in September to encourage business improvement districts, local development corporations and merchant associations, to find innovative ways to improve services to their local commercial corridors.
Rob Walsh, commissioner of SBS, said Urban Upbound’s project is one of six winning proposals that will make a real difference in neighborhoods.
“This initiative will not only help place local residents in jobs, but will also help them launch new businesses that generate economic activity and attract more investment to the growing neighborhood,” he said.
Executive Director Bishop Mitchell Taylor of Urban Upbound, formerly known as the East River Development Alliance, said they plan on doing just that.
Taylor said this grant “is a slam dunk, no-brainer.”
“Our work revolves around public housing communities and really organizing the social networks in those communities to change the public housing community, not from outside in, but from the inside out,” he said.
“Our model involves a comprehensive fleet of services, which involves employment services, one-on-one financial counseling and early awareness for our children and then community revitalization [by] making sure that our public housing communities have the same access to goods and services as other communities, which leads us into the Hallets Point Astoria project,” he added.
Debra-Ellen Glickstein, co-founder of Urban Upbound, said the grant will support the development of business plans. The non-profit will work to conduct a market analysis to identify viable businesses, develop a business retention/attraction/growth strategy, identify five potential viable business ideas, create business plans for two of those businesses and identify local entrepreneurs and capital investors to help launch a new locally-grown business.
Glickstein said the grant will help to distinguish “what is the community’s vision about what businesses should and can exist economically now and in the future.”
Taylor said, since the Astoria Boulevard strip has been home to short-term bodegas, liquor stores and check cashers, it has been underdeveloped and overlooked.
Now that billion of dollars will go towards the development of the Long Island City waterfront at Hunters Point South, Taylor said Urban Upbound will work to create opportunities for the local residents, so they too can understand some of the goods and services that will be needed when the new development comes in.
“Often times, the developer will make retail space available for dry cleaners, supermarkets, and often times, you see people from outside of the community occupy those spaces, [but] we are hoping to lay the groundwork to work with the community to develop a plan that there will be entrepreneurs and people locally to launch businesses in those places,” he said.
For the future, Taylor said he hopes, “For Astoria Houses, at the end of the day, when someone wakes up in the morning, two years from now, and they get out of their apartment, I want them to be able to walk down the street and open the doors to their new business.”
“That means local residents are able to take advantage of local development and be a part of that prosperity,” he added. “We are not a hand-out organization; we are a hand-up.”
Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Tsakhuja13.