Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

In the 1960s older intercity neighborhoods in Pittsburgh were being demolished as part of an urban renewal program called the “Pittsburgh Renaissance.” Many lower income residents, primarily African Americans, were forced out of their homes. Some were relocated into public housing, but others were left without a plan for affordable living. Additionally, financial institutions began “redlining” residential areas deemed too risky because of their racial or ethnic composition, denying mortgages and other loans to the people who lived there.

Dorothy Mae Richardson (1922–91) resided in Pittsburgh’s Central Northside. When her own neighborhood became threatened, she formed Citizens Against Slum Housing (CASH) with a group of residents to stand up to the established leadership and give a voice to community members who had been ignored because of their economic status. CASH advocated for code enforcement, construction of new public housing, and a housing court to compel landlords to maintain their properties. Members also approached some local financial institutions and were able to persuade them to extend mortgages and home improvement loans to low-income lenders from the Central Northside. To administer these loans, Richardson established Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) in 1968.

NHS brought residents together with representatives from financial institutions, foundations and city government. This unique collaboration became a model in community development. Previously working at cross-purposes, the groups combined their efforts to bring about resident-led community change. NHS not only extended loans to individuals who were previously unable to secure them, but it also provided financial counseling and technical assistance. The organization championed preservation and revitalization of older urban neighborhoods, greatly reducing the disruption of large-scale resident relocation.


Dorothy Mae Richardson speaking at the 16th anniversary of Neighborhood Housing Services. NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania

Dorothy Mae Richardson speaking at the 16th anniversary of Neighborhood Housing Services.
NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania

In 1970 the success of the NHS model drew the attention of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. Within three years the board had partnered with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to form a task force based on NHS for the entire country, and by 1975 communities in many states had adopted similar organizations. Finally, in 1978, Congress created the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, which continued and expanded the task force’s work. This organization developed into NeighborWorks America, which remains in existence today, providing assistance to homeowners and home buyers in disenfranchised communities. In honor of Dorothy Mae Richardson and the work that led to its foundation, NeighborWorks has established an award in her honor that recognizes community leaders who continue her legacy of leading grassroots efforts to improve their neighborhoods.

The Pennsylvania Historical Marker for Dorothy Mae Richardson was dedicated on October 16, 2019, in the Central Northside of Pittsburgh. It marks the site of Neighborhood Housing Service’s first office, now a community garden.


Karen Galle is on the staff of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office and has been the coordinator of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program since 2005.