Demanding Banking Access in the Bronx

Community members, advocates, and civic leaders gathered n August 24, 2020, to call on Amalgamated Bank to remain true to their 2008 commitment to serve the West Bronx and keep the Burnside Avenue location open.

This critical branch was only one of two full service commercial banking locations in the heart of the Community District 5, with its closing, 130,000 residents and at least 165 small businesses are left with few physically accessible high quality financial services options at a time of great financial vulnerability.

With only a few months’ notice and virtually no outreach, Amalgamated Bank intends to shutter its branch on Burnside Avenue by September 25, 2020. 

They also called on JPMorgan Chase to reopen its doors, and the financial services industry writ large to better serve the community. This location has been shuttered for nearly 10 months with no confirmed date of reopening.

The leaders also called on the NYS Department of Financial Services to strengthen Banking Development District regulations and oversight of the industry.

During one of the worst pandemics our country and city has seen with the loss of thousands of New Yorkers and many out of work, lost income and struggling to make ends meet, our community partners in the financial sector play an important role. For over fifteen years, our West Bronx community has welcomed Amalgamated Bank as our neighbor on Burnside Avenue, an institution founded years ago by immigrants who realized the urgent need for financial services in underserved communities. Now that times are truly challenging when we need our partners the most, Amalgamated Bank has chosen to close its branch and leave a void of financial services for our residents and families. We are outraged, disappointed and feel abandoned by an entity with whom we have always supported and stood by. It’s unfortunate that when the challenges are the greatest, Amalgamated would choose to take its services elsewhere instead of continuing its investments in our community. We hope that Amalgamated will reverse its decision and remain an important part of our Burnside Avenue commercial corridor. We have been there for them and now it’s time for them to be there for us,” said Vanessa Gibson, NYC Council Member.

“In the 21st Century, Economic Empowerment of our Constituency is a Right, not a Privilege. It is a task that is long overdue. It must be Done now with collective responsibility,” said Dr. Bola Omotosho, Chair of Bronx Community Board 5.

“Access to financial services and capital is a right not a privilege.  In a time where thousands of Black and Latino owned businesses need the resources and the reassurance that accompanies local financial institutions it is quite disheartening to hear that Amalgamated Bank will be closing its branch on Burnside Avenue.  I sincerely hope that they reconsider their position and honor their commitment to the hard-working men and women who put their trust in Amalgamated for so many years,” said Paul A. Philps, District Manager, Community Board 4, JARC Steering Committee Member. 

“In our daily lives, the steps we take dictate where we’ll be as people, so do the steps of our banks. If they pull out of our community, where will our district be 5, 10, 15 years down the line” said Emmanuel Martinez, Chair of Bronx Community Board 7.

“It is unacceptable that banks abandon this community and leave consumers and merchants looking for ATMs here and there. It is unacceptable to ask merchants to go miles away from their business in order to speak to a human being or fix a problem. It is dangerous, demoralizing and unacceptable,” said Ubaldo Santos, President of BJTBronx Merchant Association, Inc., Business Owner with 30 years in the Community, and client of Amalgamated Bank.

“Good morning as the Vice President of the BJTBronx Merchant Association Inc. and the owner of Bronx Optical Center, let’s stop and think right now at this moment what the community needs. We cannot continue being a forgotten community overall a forgotten borough! We need to come together! Our community needs us. Citizens in this area especially the elderly are left sacrificing traveling much distance to go to the nearest Chase bank or Amalgamated Bank. By not having these banks in our area it creates a sense of abandonment. Thank you Chase Bank and Amalgamated Bank for leaving us abandoned after many years of providing financial services to our community. We want answers!I did not abandon my community! We need to give back to our community and continue servicing this community. There are no excuses to just pick up and leave. I didn’t pick up and leave. I continue to sacrifice every single day to give back to the community The mission is to continue providing services that are much needed,” said Jessica Betancourt, Owner of Bronx Optical on Burnside Avenue and Vice President of BJTBronx Merchant Association, Inc.

“To both Amalgamated and to Chase we say: in the era of #BlackLivesMatter show us that you’re better. Show us that you are not just another bank concerned only about your bottom line. To us, these closures are personal. Today, we stand together, organized and connected by the love of our community and a commitment to our future, will you be a part of it?” said Pierina Sanchez, resident of Community District 5, client of Amalgamated Bank, and JARC Steering Committee Member.

“The thousands of hard-working community residents and small business owners in the South Bronx, many of whom are Black and Latino and provide vital goods and services, income and jobs to resurgent neighborhoods, need and deserve accessible financial services in their community. The South

Bronx is still recovering from decades of disinvestment caused by racist federal redlining policies; now more than ever, as we begin to recover from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, our community needs more banks and financial institutions to help us rebound – not fewer. We implore Amalgamated Bank to honor its commitment to social responsibility and its obligation to those who have already entrusted the bank with their hard-won resources by keeping its doors open on Burnside Avenue.” said

Davon Russell, President, WHEDco, and JARC Steering Committee Member.

“Through our work of empowering New Yorkers to build sustainable futures, The HOPE Program and our subsidiary Sustainable South Bronx serve our most under-resourced community members, nearly two-thirds of whom do not access banks. In the best of times, this lack of access leads to up to $3,000

per year — or $120,000 in the span of one’s work life – spent on unnecessary fees. In the current economic landscape, we have seen firsthand how limited access to banking slows payments of critical support, such as unemployment insurance and other assistance which keeps our community members in their homes, safe and healthy. While organizations like HOPE educate and connect our neighbors with banks, financial institutions must double down on, not retreat from, their commitment to the West Bronx and surrounding

communities,” said Jennifer Mitchell, Executive Director, The HOPE Program and Sustainable South Bronx, and JARC Steering Committee Member. 

“We are working together with key community stakeholders to establish The Jerome Avenue Revitalization Collaborative (JARC). This cross sector partnership designed in response to the largest rezoning in NYC, aims to ensure that residents and businesses can benefit and actively participate from incoming economic development in this area. Access to non predatory financial tools and services are more critical than ever for the recovery of the Bronx. The JARC wants to ensure this banking development district is preserved for years to come and the physical presence depository institutions are vital,” said Dayanna Torres,

Director Community Solutions at JobsFirstNYC, advisor to JARC, and former Community Board 5 member and resident.

“How can I teach students about financial literacy, when their own financial institutions are running away from them? We need our financial institutions to help close the inequality gap, not widen it. Stay open and invest in our future!” said Salim Drammeh, local school teacher, community district 5 resident, President of the Gambian Youth Organization and Co-Director of the Bronx Mutual Aid Network.“As a Bronx resident, a customer and stockholder of Amalgamated Bank, I call on the executives to double down on their mission of ‘Banking Responsibly’ and continue to provide access to this much needed banking institution for our community,” said Luis Gomez, Bronx resident and Amalgamated Customer and Bank Stockholder.

“We are deeply disappointed that Amalgamated has chosen to close another bank branch in the Bronx, leaving the area with just one bank branch. The Bronx has the highest concentration of people of color, lowest incomes, and highest rates of unbanked New Yorkers in the City. This closure is troubling at

any time, and especially during a pandemic. Residents and business owners depend on access to a financial institution close to their home and business.” said Jaime Weisberg, Senior Campaign Analyst at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. “Earlier this year, the Trump administration took steps to weaken the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires banks to lend and provide banking services equitably. ANHD opposes these changes and has been advocating for the law to be strengthened, including calling for bank branches to remain a key part of the law. In fact, we want to see more emphasis on bank branches and products in low-income, Black, and Brown communities. We appreciate Amalgamated’s commitment to racial equity. Supporting and maintaining this branch in the Bronx with products, services, and quality jobs is a concrete way to demonstrate that commitment.”