Cushing Dolbeare

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Cushing Dolbeare

Cushing N. Dolbeare, who spent more than half a century as an advocate for low-income Americans priced out of the nation's housing market, died in 2005, aged 78.

Dolbeare died of cancer at her home in Mitchellville, Md.

Survivors include her husband of 49 years, Louis P. Dolbeare of Mitchellville; and two children, Niles Dolbeare of San Francisco and Mary Dolbeare O'Kane of Seattle.[1]


Cushing Niles Dolbeare was born in Hartford, Conn., and moved across the United States as a child with her parents, who were among the country's first management consultants. By the time she graduated from Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College in 1949, she had attended the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945 and worked in Germany on postwar reconstruction efforts.

One of her first jobs was as a speechwriter for Sen. Hubert Humphrey, who was invited to talk before a national housing convention.

"I didn't know much about housing," Dolbeare said in 2002, "but I made it sound as if he did."

In 1952, she was named assistant director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association of Baltimore. From 1956 to 1971, she was managing director of the Housing Assn. of Delaware Valley in Philadelphia. After consulting for several years on housing and migrant labor issues, Dolbeare formed the National Low Income Housing Coalition in 1974.

Among her many honors were the 2002 Heinz Award for the Human Condition from the Heinz Family Foundation. She donated the $250,000 prize to the housing coalition for an endowment fund.

She lived in Washington from 1977 to 2002, when she moved to Mitchellville.[2]

Housing activism

After the Nixon administration's temporary suspension of all programs for low-income housing in 1973, Dolbeare formed a national organization to highlight that need. She assembled a coalition of labor, civil rights, religious and social groups to create the National Low Income Housing Coalition in 1974.

Known for her ability to unite seemingly disparate groups, she found common ground between the financial interests of the real estate industry and the moral interests of advocates for the poor. She freely crossed party lines, forming unlikely alliances of conservatives and liberals.

Andrew Cuomo, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton, once called Dolbeare "the Rosa Parks of housing."

Carla Hills, HUD secretary in the Ford administration, praised Dolbeare for "the absolute fairness of her advocacy. I think she was indispensable to the cause. She made a genuine difference."

After forming a housing coalition in the garage of her home, Dolbeare was its president from 1977 to 1984 and from 1993 to 1994. She founded the Low Income Housing Information Service and was executive director of the National Rural Housing Coalition from 1974 to 1977. She served on the president's Commission on Housing in 1981 and 1982 and led a HUD and Environmental Protection Agency joint task force on the hazards of lead paint from 1993 to 1995.

"Cushing was the godmother of the affordable housing advocacy movement," Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) said in a statement. He added that her "commitment, careful analysis and attention to the facts ... made her respected by all."

Dolbeare remained chairwoman emeritus of the housing coalition until her death.

Among her other achievements, Dolbeare devised an annual analysis called "Out of Reach," using a formula called the "housing wage" that dramatically spotlighted the gap between income and housing costs. The housing wage calculates what someone would need to earn to afford rent on a two-bedroom house. According to the coalition's most recent figures, housing in the District of Columbia is more costly than that in any state in the nation. Based on the housing wage formula, a person earning minimum wage would have to work 125 hours a week.

"Throughout my career," Dolbeare told a House subcommittee in 1995, outlining the source of her advocacy, "I have viewed housing as the basis of family, neighborhood and community life."

Still, Dolbeare was never satisfied that her work was done. In a 2002 interview with the National Housing Institute, she said, "The housing problem is much worse now than it was when I got into housing."[3]

Cablegram to Portugese Socialists and the M.F.A.

In 1974, after a pro-communist military coup in Portugal;

More than eighty Americans, all identified with opposition to the Vietnamese war and with various radical and liberal causes, sent on August 9 a cablegram to to the Portugese Armed Forces Movement, to Portugese president francisco da Costa Gomes and to portugese socialist leader Mario soares expressing the hope that "democratic freedoms"...will continue to grow in Portugal".

Michael Harrington, the national chairman of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, organized the effort with help from 5 "Initiators" - Lawrence Birns (writer), Sissy Farenthold (past president National Women's Political Caucus), Congressman Michael J. Harrington, Martin Peretz (chairman, editorial board New Republic), Cleveland Robinson (vice president, Distributive Workers of America), Leonard Woodcock (president United Auto Workers, Jerry Wurf (president AFSME).

Cushing Dolbeare signed the cablegram.[4]

Democratic Agenda

More than 1,200 people attended the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee initiated Democratic Agenda Conference held November 16-18, 1979, at the International Inn and Metropolitan AM Church in Washington 1 DC. The conference focused on "corporate power'; as the key barrier to "economic and political democracy," concepts many Democratic Agenda participants defined as "socialism.'

The Democratic Agenda meetings attempted to develop anti-corporate alternatives" through influencing the direction of the Democratic Party during the period leading to the July 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York.

Workshops included Housing: The National Issue - Cushing Dolbeare, Derek Shearer[5]


In 1981 Cushing Dolbeare was a Vice President of Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization[6].


In 1979 Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee member Cushing Dolbeare is a consultant in housing policy and programs and chairs the national executive committee of the Americans for Democratic Action.[7]

National Low Income Housing Coalition

Cushing Dolbeare was founder of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.[8]

Dream of Equality awardee

Cushing Dolbeare is a past recipient of Asian Americans for Equality's annual Dream of Equality award.[9]