Bronx Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner underscores Hunt’s Point

BY Bill Egbert

How often does the man who oversees the biggest economy in the world visit the poorest urban county in the nation?

Never, it turns out, until this week.

“I checked,” said Rep. Jose Serrano (D-South Bronx), who hosted Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in Hunts Point on Monday. “There has never been a Treasury secretary in the Bronx.”

Geithner came to the South Bronx to shine a national spotlight on The Point and Urban Health Plan, and to shower stimulus cash on the community development lenders that made their success stories possible.

In a nationally televised press conference on the rooftop of The Point Community Development Corp., the Treasury secretary announced $90million in stimulus money for community development groups across the country to highlight the corporation’s success in turning such funding into tangible benefits for a hard-pressed community.

Geithner lauded one of the group’s early successes, Tat’s Cru, a group of local graffiti artists now creating Broadway sets and doing work for major brands.

After The Point gave it a place to work and other support in the 1990s, Tat’s Cru went from working out of the back of a car to becoming an internationally known graphic design powerhouse with $1 million in revenues.The group’s work is on display at the Smithsonian.

Before the rooftop announcement, Geithner toured The Point and met with top staff. His attention impressed The Point’s president and co-founder, Maria Torres, who expected him to be too preoccupied with Wall Street to think about Hunts Point.

“He had really good questions and a lot of interest,” Torres said. “I didn’t expect the Treasury secretary to be like that.”

The funding Geithner announced this week does not go directly to groups such as The Point, but rather to the community development lenders that finance them – in The Point’s case, the Nonprofit Finance Fund, which helped the group buy its Hunts Point building in the 1990s.

The Nonprofit Finance Fund will receive $1.9 million, which it will leverage to help dozens of local community development groups finance the groundwork needed to secure greater funding from commercial banks. That which is an increasingly daunting task as lending has tightened in the credit crisis.

Another local beneficiary is the Primary Care Development Corporation, which will get $2 million to help replicate another South Bronx success Geithner touted, Urban Health Plan.

A small loan from Primary Care Development Corp. helped Urban Health Plan raise an additional $11 million in financing, allowing the health care provider to expand and more than double the number of patients it serves. Urban Health Plan is now the largest employer in the area, and is looking to expand again.

Serrano noted that each dollar in funding to community development financial institutions leverages $15 in additional money for local groups. He also announced Monday that the amount of funding provided to such institutions would more than double in next year’s budget.

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