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Hallets Point Worker Co-op Plan to Bring Jobs and Lets Staff Become Owners

 City officials and Urban Upbound staff at the launch of On Point Security, the first in a planned series of worker-owned businesses to employ public housing residents.
City officials and Urban Upbound staff at the launch of On Point Security, the first in a planned series of worker-owned businesses to employ public housing residents.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

ASTORIA — A local nonprofit is looking to create more jobs for residents at the Astoria Houses by starting "worker cooperatives," where employees will have the option to buy shares and become part-owners of the companies they work for.

Urban Upbound plans to start a number of worker-owned businesses that will employ residents of the NYCHA complex in the Hallets Point peninsula, where the group says 47 percent of tenants are unemployed or underemployed.

"We're operating a new paradigm for breaking the cycle of poverty," said Bishop Mitchell Taylor, co-founder of Urban Upbound, which works with public housing residents in Western Queens.

The first cooperative business that the group is opening is On Point Security, which will train guards to provide security for buildings, nightclubs, special events and elsewhere.

There are six people currently employed by the new business, with another 30 workers being trained, according to Fritz "King" Vincent, On Point Security's general manager.

After working for the company for six months, employees will have the option to become a part-owner, in which they'll be able to share in the profits and take part in business decisions.

"At that point they'll have a share, a percentage of the company," Vincent said. "Now they own something, and they have say in how the business is going to be run, they'll have a say in how their wages are going to look."

He added that "a lot of the time, the worker never gets to see what's behind the curtain, and this allows them to see and know how a business is run, and make some really educated decisions on how to run it."

Taylor said Urban Upbound plans to open several other businesses using the same worker cooperative model, a way to create jobs for Astoria Houses residents and also bring needed services to the Hallets Point peninsula, which is set to be transformed in the coming years by two major residential developments and ferry service.

The Durst Organization expects to break ground this fall on a development that will include more than 2,000, mostly market-rate apartments, while the Astoria Cove project will bring another 1,700 units to the neighborhood.

"We've sat down and looked at, what are the potential demands that are going to be created because of this?" Taylor said.

Both developments are slated to include new supermarkets, where Urban Upbound is also hoping to implement worker cooperatives. Other ideas for future businesses the group is looking to start include child care, food manufacturing, and a retail market near the waterfront.

The market would serve visitors who would come into the neighborhood by ferry. The city plans to open a new ferry dock at Hallets Point in 2017.

"Because of the ferry, because Hallets Point and Astoria Cove are going to be such a destination, we'd like to do a shopping cooperative that has different entrepreneurs and retail," Taylor said.

Urban Upbound is starting the cooperatives with funding from the Citi Community Development and NYCHA as part of a new citywide "Doorways to Opportunities" initiative, which is investing $1.4 million into programs to provide NYCHA residents with services like job training, financial counseling and tax preparation.

To learn more about Urban Upbound's worker cooperatives and how to get involved, contact the organization at (718) 784-0877.