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Dollar Bank and East Liberty: Neighbor-to-Neighbor

September 10, 2010

(The following article appeared in the Fall 2010 Positively Pittsburgh supplement to the Pittsburgh Business Times.)

The relationship between Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood and Dollar Bank is emblematic of the nature of Pittsburgh's oldest bank and the nation's largest mutual savings bank.

"We work very hard to understand our region's people and their needs," explains Mona Generett, Dollar Bank's VP for Community Development. "We also feel that we have a unique responsibility and the capacity to help meet those needs, especially the needs of city neighborhoods like East Liberty."

A well-respected commercial real estate lender, Dollar Bank is often asked to take the lead on a number of sophisticated urban development projects. Over the years, the bank has worked with federal, state and local governments to help reclaim abandoned steel mill sites and retool former school buildings into apartments specially designed for senior citizens.

Three recent projects in East Liberty illustrate the bank's sophistication and creativity used to help older communities revitalize themselves.

Urban Prototype Homes: Partnering with the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) along with support from the Heinz Endowments, Dollar Bank made a loan to East Liberty Development Inc. (ELDI) to build six single-family homes in the 700 block of Euclid Ave. Priced between $216,000 and $299,500, these homes incorporate green designs that annually save the homeowners 40% on their energy bills and are intended to be replicated in urban communities across the country.

East Liberty Place North: Again working with the URA, Dollar Bank made a multi-million dollar loan to the non-profit developer, The Community Builders, to construct a 54-unit apartment building with first-floor retail in the 5800 block of Penn Ave. Key to the success of this project was the acquisition of federal low-income housing tax credits.

Dads House: Working with the Federal Home Loan Bank and the URA, Dollar Bank made a loan and an equity investment to construct rental units in four buildings located on Clair Blvd. and East Liberty Blvd. Some of these units will house homeless men from Safe Haven. Low income housing tax credits were also an important part of this projects.

"The best way to insure success with urban revitalization projects is to make sure we work with local community groups like ELDI, who have a good understanding of the community's needs, have designed a strategic plan for their community and possess the expertise to see that plan through," explained Generett.

"Buildings alone however, do not make a neighborhood," Generett observed. "From our earliest days, Dollar Bank has always focused on people."

Dollar Bank was the first bank to recognize the need to provide credit counseling to low- and moderate-income borrowers who had been shut out of the mortgage market because of poor credit. Participants in the bank's award winning Credit Enhancement Program are told 'not yet' instead of 'no.' As a result, thousands of people have been able to break the cycle of poverty and become homeowners.

Generett has been a pioneer in her own right. More than a dozen years ago, she concluded that female heads of households had a unique set of hurdles beyond simply financial that were preventing them from becoming homeowners. "These women had been told all their lives by family, friends and neighbors that 'Honey there's nothing you can do about your situation,' Generett said. "If we gave them the information and the encouragement, I believed that many of these women could overcome those extra hurdles too."

Thousands of women have attended Dollar Bank's annual 'Mortgages for Mothers' seminar and become homeowners. "The motivational stories of women cleaning up their credit and moving from public housing to their own homes makes all the hard work worthwhile," she explained.

"I believe that part of our advantage is that we are a mutual institution without the push and pull of stockholders to distract us from our mission," Generett continued. "Whether we deal with individuals, businesses or non-profits," she said. "We approach every relationship neighbor-to-neighbor." 

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