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Benjamin banks on Claremont

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When Assemblyman Michael Benjamin ran for office in 2003, he made only one campaign promise: a bank for the residents of Claremont Village.

Six years later, Benjamin could make good on that promise. The 79th District assemblyman has co-sponsored legislation that would permit more than one bank per state Banking Development District (BDD).

The Morrisania BDD was established in 2000 when the state agreed to deposit money in a European American Bank, now Citibank, at 1463 Southern Boulevard.

BDDs are meant to provide low-income New Yorkers traditional bank access. Since 2003, Benjamin has held that the Morrisania BDD bank is located too far away from the people who need it most, the residents of Claremont Village.

“I remember when the 3rd Avenue Northside Savings Bank closed in 1988,” Benjamin said. “I believe that was the last bank in the neighborho­od.”

Claremont Village is a cluster of five public housing developments from E. 165th Street to Claremont Parkway between Webster and 3rd avenues. Benjamin called Claremont Village the “heart of Community Board 3.”

“There are plenty of check cashing stores nearby,” he said. “But no banks. You have a community that needs banking services. People shouldn’t have to take mass transit to Community Board 6 or Community 1 in order to bank.”

According to Abraham Jones, Claremont Neighborhood Center’s executive director and CB3 member, most Claremont Village residents bank at E. 151st Street and 3rd Avenue or E. 170th Street and Jerome Avenue. Southern Boulevard’s Citibank branch is located nearly two miles away.

The neighborhood is saturated with ATMs. But ATMs, Jones argues, don’t promote financial literacy. He works with Claremont Village teens.

“I try to dissuade them from using ATMs,” Jones said. “ATMs charge exorbitant fees. Banks, on the other hand, have a lot of services to offer.”

Benjamin’s legislation would allow the state to back another bank in the Morrisania BDD, this time near Claremont Village. It has already passed the Assembly and is in the Senate banking committee. Queens Assemblyman Jose Peralta is Benjamin’s co-sponsor.

“I think it has a good chance,” Benjamin said. “We’ve been working on this for years.”

According to Benjamin and Jones, a bank close to Claremont Village would benefit entrepreneurs and stimulate the neighborhood’s economy. A bank would also offer Claremont Village seniors direct deposit.

“I am pleased that the Assembly passed this legislation,” said Assemblyman Benjamin. “This bill will help me to finally bring an additional bank to serve the residents and small businesses of Claremont Village.”

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