Through his financial dealings with the poor, Robert Lavelle tries to stake a Christian claim in people’s lives.

Wander through the Hill District of Pittsburgh. You will see parts of it that look like a slum: an inner-city ghetto. Burned-out and boarded-up buildings testify to businesses that have fled the area for more lucrative locations. Vacant lots reveal the vicious cycle of slum housing: the landlord who quit trying to keep it up, the tenants who gave up, the city inspector who preferred a bribe to real inspection, the drug addicts who moved in after the tenants moved out. Declared unfit for habitation, the house went down under the wrecking ball of the city’s demolition crew. You might witness a corner drug sale if you watch carefully. The numbers runner slips by.

As you continue your wandering in this area, though, you see signs of hope, of growth, and of life instead of death. You come to one of the few bright spots, an attractive building at the corner of Herron and Centre Avenues. It is Lavelle Real Estate and Dwelling House Savings and Loan.

If you are 12 years old, looking for models, you might look to the kingpin of drug sales. But you might also look to Robert R. Lavelle, the bank executive in the nice building who waves to the kids as they walk by, who sometimes finds them jobs, who visits their homes if their parents are among those who are struggling and buying a house with one of the mortgages he provides to poor black families who otherwise cannot obtain credit. The larger banks downtown would think twice before ever offering a mortgage to someone in a slum.

Officially Robert R. Lavelle is executive vice-president and secretary of Dwelling House and president of the real estate company. In practice, as a ...

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