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Old-fashioned banker meets new fangled heist

"Old-fashioned banker meets new fangled heist" Continued...

Issue: "Africa, Inc.," Oct. 10, 2009

The elder Lavelle's stubborn conviction also led to a clash with banking regulators, who wanted Dwelling House to quit allowing prisoners to save at the bank. He was convinced by Scripture that the savings and loan had to help prisoners, prompting fines against him ($2,500) and his son ($5,000) by OTS.

Wauzzinski believes that OTS had a bias against Dwelling House on a kind of philosophical basis related to the elder Lavelle's outspoken Christian faith and indirect critique of other lending institutions. "We serve the need, not the greed," was a Dwelling House slogan. The shutdown seemed to result from a clash of the traditional banking culture fostered by government regulators with the Lavelles' stubborn commitment to fighting urban poverty.

One tragedy of the OTS closure of Dwelling House is that, while prominent political officials have endorsed the Dwelling House objectives, they also have supported rescues for bigger lending institutions, most without the record of social accomplishment and community engagement.

Dwelling House was successful because the Lavelles knew their clients and community. They were very old-fashioned bankers who knew where their clients lived and could walk or take a short car ride to see them. They seldom got robbed by anyone with a gun because those kinds of Pittsburgh thieves generally left them alone out of respect for their commitment to helping needy families.

Cyberspace thieves, on the other hand, didn't care who they were robbing.

Pittsburgh-area supporters of Dwelling House did. "Dwelling House is a golden thread forever woven into the fabric of this city," wrote Dave and Barb Brewton and Marc and Lynn Portnoff in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after its closing. "We thank you and we stand among the many who say with confidence, 'Well done, good and faithful servants.'"

The Dwelling House loss did not end the Lavelle family civic leadership tradition. Father, son, and grandson Robert D. Lavelle have a real estate company. The third-generation Lavelle won a City Council seat primary earlier this year and has no opposition on the ballot come November. "He told me when he was 15, I guess I'll be the first black mayor of Pittsburgh," Lavelle said of his grandson.

Wauzzinski believes that the Dwelling House model needs to be recaptured: "It is imperative that the ideals that Dwelling House helped make real endure beyond the demise of the business, for those very healing principles represent one powerful and successful strategy for overcoming urban poverty."

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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