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Dorothy Mae Richardson: Honoring the Woman That Helped Shape Community Development

March 19, 2020

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Women’s History Month, which began in 1987, is a month-long celebration of women’s contributions to society, whether in the arts, sports, politics, or music. This month offers us the opportunity to reflect and remember those, often overlooked and underacknowledged, trailblazers who created new paths for past, present, and future generations of women.

This month, the Center for Community Progress honors the life and legacy of Dorothy Mae Richardson (1923 – 1991), a woman who – from her home on North Charles Street in Pittsburgh – inspired a new type of resident-led activism. She’s known to many as the “Pioneer of Community-Based Development.”

Who is Dorothy Mae Richardson?

Deemed “fearless,” “bold,” and a “risk-taker”, Dorothy Mae Richardson championed for safe, quality, and affordable housing for residents of her Northside Pittsburgh community.

During the 1960s, trends in discriminatory lending and urban renewal created a mountain of hurdles to homeownership, neighborhood stability, and affordable housing for Black Americans.

In response to an urban renewal threat to her community, and the general lack of affordable housing opportunities for poor renters, Richardson founded the resident and all women-led, Citizens Against Slum Housing (CASH). She believed, first, that instead of tearing down the deteriorated homes in her neighborhood, landlords should be held accountable and responsible for improving their dilapidated properties, and, second, that financial institutions and government officials should be accountable for the negative results of redlining, and play an active role in revitalizing neighborhoods.

In 1968, CASH became Neighborhood Housing Services, or NHS. In the years that followed, in a public-partnership with 16 financial institutions, NHS successfully secured a $1 million high-risk revolving loan for to fuel homeownership and home repairs, an effort that is said to have been the blueprint for the Community Reinvestment Act.

Her Legacy

Richardson’s work with NHS would eventually lay the groundwork for NeighborWorks America, an organization that works to “create opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, improve their lives and strengthen their communities.”

She once stated, “I believe people get their roots down when they own their own houses…. take pride in them. That, in turn, is good for the whole city.”

On October 16, 2019, a Pennsylvania Historical Marker was unveiled at the intersection of Jacksonia Street and Arch Street in Pittsburgh in honor of Richardson’s legacy and inspiring work.

Today, the work of Richardson has inspired work in equity and housing opportunity, including our work here at Community Progress. Her model for leadership and resident-first engagements lives on today. This month Community Progress is excited to celebrate Dorothy Mae Richardson.

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