On Aug. 14, another African-American institution, Dwelling House Savings and Loan, the only minority-owned and operated financial institution in Pittsburgh was closed to the regret of many.
Dwelling House Savings and Loan and its predecessor, with a history of more than 119 years in the Hill, have helped more African-Americans and poor people buy their homes than many realize. In fact, many people would not be homeowners (my wife and I included) if Dwelling House did not exist. Many people who could not get mortgages from White institutions had their dreams realized at Dwelling House.
African-American realtors, when they could not get loans for their clients from the majority institutions, brought their loans to Dwelling House. (However, many of them came to Dwelling House as a last resort after being turned down by everyone else.) Churches and minority businesses were able to get their loans from Dwelling House as well.
The board of directors of Dwelling House adopted the philosophy of its founder, Robert T. Lavelle, who believed that everyone who desired had a right to own a home. Also, he encouraged the board not to give up on a person until that person gives up on himself/herself. At Dwelling House, there was the sense of forbearance—for while Dwelling House was a financial institution, it was also operated on Christian principles.
During the period when other institutions red-lined poor and Black communities and refused to make loans in certain areas such as the Hill, Dwelling House was there. Dwelling House did not need the Community Reinvestment Act to do the “right thing.”
When a person or family received a loan from Dwelling House, that loan remained at Dwelling House until it was paid off. Will PNC keep the loans from Dwelling House to maturity? Will there be a sense of forbearance from PNC or will people lose their homes as soon as they miss or are late with payments?
There are some questions that I must raise:
•Was it the plan of the OTS and FDIC to close Dwelling House all along and they simply “played” the board, the community, the local foundations and banks that were ready to extend a lifeline?
•Was PNC Bank already appointed and anointed for the takeover?
•How did it happen so quickly?
•Why did PNC not come to the table with the “local group?”
•Why didn’t our elected officials who were notified and asked for help (Rep. Wheatley, Sen. Ferlo and U.S. Sen. Casey) respond?
•Why did we not hear from the mayor and the councilman for the Hill District?
•Why were the same energies that were used to build two new stadiums, a hockey arena, a casino and the development of Downtown not used to keep Dwelling House alive?
•If Dwelling House was a majority White institution, would the same response from those who could have saved Dwelling House have been different? I believe the answer is yes.
I believe in life after death. I believe it is time for the Black community and other people and groups of goodwill to come together and form another minority financial institution to continue the work of Dwelling House. Friday, Aug. 14 was Good Friday! Let’s cause an Easter event to take place.
Rev. Dr. Johnnie Monroe
Former board member, Dwelling House Savings and Loan