Washington Heights and West Harlem

Home to the largest community of Dominicans outside the Dominican Republic, Washington Heights and West Harlem are two of Manhattan’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, and they comprise one of New York City’s most densely populated areas.  Every day, streams of new arrivals come from the Caribbean to settle into a community that is reminiscent of home.  Bustling commercial streets are evidence of a community on the move. 

George Washington bridge in Washington Heights
The George Washington Bridge
in Washington Heights.

However, the average per capita income in these communities is $10,000—only two-fifths the national average.  Officially, the area is 56% Latino, 30.2 African-American, 11.9% white non-Hispanic, and 1.9% other.  The poverty rate for single female-headed households is 65%, and the general unemployment rate was 14% during much of the economic boom of the 1990s.

In addition, few banks serve the area.  Those banks that do operate here carry minimum balance requirements and monthly fees that are often out of reach for poorer families.  Fifty percent of low-income individuals live without the basic security of bank accounts, and few have ever been able to take bank loans.  Instead, families turn to the services of check-cashing stores and loan sharks (or prestamistas.)

To provide affordable and accessible financial services to this population, CWCID opened the Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union in Washington Heights in March 1997.  To date, 4,100 neighborhood residents have become members of the credit union, and nearly 2,000 people have participated in CWCID's curriculum.

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