Vice president U.S. Bank of Oregon, Portland

Two add a half years ago, Portland community activists accused U.S. Bank of Oregon of all but ignoring low-income areas of the city. Today those same advocates praise the bank.

Much of the credit for the turnaround goes to Karen L. Tolvstad, U.S. Bank's community investment manager. She has won activists over by doggedly building bridges between the bank and Portland's neglected neighborhoods.

"She is concerned about affordable housing, just as we are," says the Rev. John J. Rodgers, a fair lending organizer in Portland.

Ms. Tolvstad, 30, represents a new breed of bankers who see community reinvestment not as an onerous regulatory burden, but as something that opens new markets. "I've really tried to create a win-win situation with the bank and the community," says this native of Yakima, Wash.

Soon afterjoining U.S. Bank in 1988, Ms. Tolvstad was put in charge of marketing for the bank's real estate lending group. There she introduced the bank's innovative Homepartners program, which helps low-income homebuyers come up with the cash for down payments.

Ms. Tolvstad was promoted to community investment chief for the entire Oregon bank in 1991. In the new job, she made it a top priority to win the trust of community groups by being open and accessible.

"I spent my seventh wedding anniversary in a church basement" talking with a Portland neighborhood group, she recalls.

Her efforts were rewarded earlier this year when federal regulators bestowed an "outstanding" rating on U.S. Bank for its performance in meeting requirements of the Community Reinvestment Act. Examiners cited the bank as a "leader in creating new loan products" that benefit low-income homebuyers.

Ms. Tolvstad is the first to say, that her effectiveness has hinged on U.S. Bank's commitment to community lending. But community representatives say her honesty and care have contributed mightily to building the bank's credibility.

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