Meet Dorothy | cdc monthly - February 2018
"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.”
In the 1960s, many of America’s oldest inner city neighborhoods were being bulldozed and residents were moved to public housing projects under the urban renewal movement. The financial industry deemed inner city neighborhoods as places far too risky and unfit for good business investments.
Dorothy Mae Richardson refused to see her neighborhood continue to decay. “I could see houses starting to lean, windows rotting away. The solution was not to tear down the whole neighborhood and move everybody into public housing. The solution was to fix the houses.” Richardson and her neighbors formed Citizens Against Slum Housing to raise money to help poor renters become homeowners.
“It all got started because of one block club…We were sick to death of all the terrible houses, the slum landlords and the rats. We planned to clean up 24 houses. We got the landlord to agree to the plan, and he gave us the spray and stuff to kill the rats and cockroaches. We got through five houses and ran out of the stuff and he reneged on his promise…”
Richardson and the block club knew money was the key to success. They enlisted city bankers and government officials to join in support of improving the neighborhood. The group then persuaded 16 financial institutions to support their neighborhood improvement efforts by making loans, capitalizing a revolving loan fund, and rehabilitate rundown homes.
Richardson’s group raised $750,000 in grants from the area lending institutions, and the funds were used to create the Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Pittsburgh in 1968. The accomplishments of NHS of Pittsburgh became a resource for community leaders and led to the founding of similar programs in cities nationwide.
In 1978, Congress institutionalized the NHS network by establishing the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, known today as NeighborWorks America, with its mission based on the community development efforts set forth by Richardson and her neighborhood a decade prior.
In honor of Richardson’s life work, NeighborWorks America created the Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership a year after her passing in 1991. The award recognizes seven community leaders from around the country for their outstanding contributions to their communities.
Since its inception, four resident leaders nominated by CDC of Tampa have been recognized as Dorothy Richardson Awardees (the most by any NeighborWorks network member). Ms. Evangeline Best, Ms. Denese Meteye-James, Dr. Richard Briscoe and Dr. Maxine Woodside have all made incredible contributions to their local communities--just as Dorothy Richardson did before them.
Dorothy: your CDC of Tampa family is proud of the history you made, and even more proud to be an ongoing part of creating positive change for people and communities all over America. Thank you for inspiring us to create economic opportunities that advance opportunity everyday.
Dr. Maxine Woodside was recognized as a Dorothy Richardson Awardee in fall 2017. As part of her recognition, NeighborWorks America produced this video in her honor: