WASHINGTON — Gale Cincotta, the longtime fair-housing activist and founder of National People’s Action, died of complications from cancer Thursday morning in Chicago.

Ms. Cincotta, 72, was known for her outspoken — and flamboyant — criticism of federal housing programs and of banks. In the early 1980s she hung a fake shark’s head, symbolizing a “loan shark,” over the door of the Federal Reserve Board building, which prompted then-Fed Chairman Paul Volcker to meet with her.

Her confrontational tactics and local approach yielded big dividends.

In 1977, President Carter appointed her to the National Commission on Neighborhoods, a post she parlayed into the chairmanship of its Reinvestment Task Force. In the Reagan administration, she was on Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp’s National Commission on Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing. Since 1994, she had been a member of Fannie Mae’s Housing Impact Advisory Council.

She lived in Chicago, where she was a member of the Community Investment Advisory Council of the Federal Home Loan Bank.

She was known for leading protests at the homes and offices of many banking and financial service executives.

“They say we are not nice when we protest and demonstrate at people’s homes and offices,” she said during a 1982 protest on Wall Street. “But bad housing isn’t nice, redlining isn’t nice.”

Ms. Cincotta kept fighting and winning campaigns until her death. Her Illinois Coalition against Predatory Home Loans was instrumental in compelling the Chicago City Council to pass a strict anti-predatory-lending ordinance recently.

During her career, she gained admirers even among those she sometimes agitated.

“Gale was an American original who developed the practice of community advocacy to a fine art,” Comptroller of the Currency John D. Hawke Jr., said in a statement Thursday. “While some viewed her as a kind of urban terrorist who could organize a boisterous demonstration in a campaign to highlight the plight of inner-city neighborhoods, to others she was an inspirational leader who knew how to get things done and pursued the interests of those she represented with all the vigor at her command.”

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.