Black History Month: #WomenWednesday Honors Dorothy Richardson

Dorothy Richardson

Black History Month calls for learning more about leaders who haven’t always received the recognition they deserve. That’s why today’s #WomenWednesday post is dedicated to Dorothy Richardson – a community activist who inspired the national field of urban development.

“Fix the houses – not tear down the whole neighborhood.”

Richardson was a housewife in the 1960s when she was compelled to fight urban decay in Pittsburgh. She saw crumbling homes left unaddressed by slumlords. And she also noticed the discrimination of financial institutions that refused to invest in low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods.

While the common practice of the day was to bulldoze dying U.S. cities and move residents to public housing, Richardson had a vision of investment, rehabilitation and renewal instead.

Citizens Against Slum Housing

She started by organizing a club on her block, getting a landlord to agree to their plan to rehab 24 homes. When the landlord withdrew support mid-project, Richardson organized her neighbors as the Citizens Against Slum Housing. In addition to planning protests and sit-ins, the citizens worked to build relationships with local banks and government authorities, eventually lobbying them for $750,000 towards loans and home rehabilitation.

With these funds, the group founded the Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Pittsburgh in 1968. Two years later, Richardson’s efforts resulted in Federal Home Loan Banks providing training for lending institutions in urban areas.

Richardson also worked to replicate the NHS model outside of Pittsburgh. In the 1970s, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) took notice and formed the Urban Reinvestment Task Force to deploy her revitalization methods across the country. This was formalized in 1978 when Congress passed the NeighborWorks Reinvestment Corporation Act.

Richardson’s Legacy Lives On

NeighborWorks America (NWA) is now a $250 million organization of over 245 nonprofits committed to affordable homeownership and community development. NWA serves thousands through homeownership counseling, foreclosure counseling, refinancing, reverse mortgages, and rehab services. And they continue to innovate with social enterprise models to make these services sustainable. CiTTA was proud to work with them on their recent Sustainable Homeownership Project.

Richardson remained active in community-based development through the 1980s. She died in 1991, and NWA established the Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership in 1992. 

This Black History Month and #WomenWednesday, we honor Dorothy Richardson and support the efforts of NWA continuing all over the country. We’re grateful to have had the chance to learn about her and her vision for community renewal.