Sister Lillian Murphy, RSM
CEO, Mercy Housing
Professor Nicolas P. Retsinas
"You are never a failure until you blame someone else."
Sister Lillian Murphy lives by her mother’s words to this day. While she is determined to never pass any blame, she is quick to share the credit for Mercy Housing’s success.
"Mercy," she says, "is not about me. I’m one person. There have been so many people who’ve made a difference. To be a part of this group of women who have dedicated their lives to this work means more than words."
Since taking over as CEO of Mercy Housing in 1987, Sister Lillian has put her for-profit business sense to work, expanding Mercy to include a staff of 1,300 with a presence in 41 states and the District of Columbia, housing more than 135,000 residents in nearly 40,000 affordable homes.
"How did we get here?" she wonders aloud. "Responding to the needs of the time. In the early 80s there wasn’t a lot of talk about how to create affordable housing with services. We just did it. It was clear that it was absolutely critical to a child’s life," she says. "It’s been an amazing journey."
Both Sister Lillian and Mercy Housing have their origins in the health ministry of the Sisters of Mercy. After joining Mercy in 1959 and finding the connection between health and housing, she saw clearly that “housing is fundamental to healthy living.”
In 1981, the Sisters of Mercy in Omaha createdMercy Housing to alleviate residents’ health and education problems linked to poor access to decent, affordable housing.
The rest is history. NHC’s President and CEO Maureen Friar says, "Sister Lillian represents the very best of our field. Mercy was built very much in line with the vision of Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch, NHC’s founder, who believed that imaginative programs could replace slums with decent housing and revive communities." Today, Mercy Housing continues to grow through its strong partnerships.
Sister Lillian is quick to point out that she still has a lot to learn and Mercy has a lot of work still to do. If her mother were alive to see what Mercy has accomplished, she would be proud, Sister Lillian admits. "She’d probably say you’ve used your talents well, but there’s a lot to be done still."
Among the most pressing needs Sister Lillian sees is finding a more efficient way to finance affordable housing. "It’s incredibly complex and the need just keeps growing. It takes six or seven years to finish a new project. There’s got to be a better way. We’re chipping away at it one by one, by one."
NHC salutes Sister Lillian Murphy as she continues to shape housing’s future and expand the realm of the possible. Thank you, Sister Lillian, for all you’ve done, and all you will do.
Nic Retsinas does not like to talk about himself. He’d much rather discuss housing finance, the history of affordable housing policy, or his next class at Harvard Business School where he teaches international real estate and housing finance. Recently, NHC caught him in a rare moment of reflection as he was relocating his office at Harvard—going through stacks of papers and mementos collected through the years. He quoted from one that imparted the following truth:
"True success is getting up in the morning and realizing that you have a very good life," which, says Retsinas, he has.
Nic has been at the forefront of U.S. housing policy for decades. He served in the Clinton Administration as Assistant Secretary for Housing-Federal Housing Commissioner at HUD and as Director of the Office of Thrift Supervision. His path eventually led him to direct Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, where he is now director emeritus. He served on the Board of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Housing Finance Board and the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation. He received a Meritorious Service Award from the U.S. Treasury Department in 1997; the Excellence in Public Service Award from the Rental Housing Association in 1998 and the Housing Leadership Award from the National Low Income Housing Coalition in 2001, and is in the National Housing Hall of Fame. He was named one of the most influential people in real estate by the National Association of REALTORS®, in home building by BUILDER magazine, and in multifamily housing by Multi-Housing News. He serves on the Board of Trustees for the National Housing Endowment and Enterprise Community Partners, and is on the Board of Directors of Community Development Trust, Inc., Freddie Mac, The Massachusetts Housing Partnership and the Center for Responsible Lending. He is a past Chair of the Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity International.
When asked to comment on all his accomplishments, he laughs and says, "Until I got out of college I never had a job thatdidn’t need an apron."
While Nic may not want to talk about his accomplishments, others do. Gala chair Shekar Narasimhan, says Nic is "self-effacing but respected universally as the authority on housing issues. After over a decade in public service at the highest levels of government, Nic Retsinas is the epitome of a houser and a person to be emulated."
Retsinas is not keen on predicting the future. "If you want to make God laugh, make plans," he says. He will say that hethinks the biggest housing policy decision facing America todayis deciding what role the government should play in providinghousing and how to support that role.
Does he have a recommendation? He has a wish. "I wish that we could create a greater realization that having a safe, affordable place to live is fundamental. If we could demonstratethat more effectively, we could make a huge difference."
Retsinas has dedicated his life to making a difference. His leadership from within government while at HUD, his research while leading the Joint Center, and his teachings and papers have allmade a difference and will continue to do so. Thank you, Nic Retsinas, for your contributions—past and future—to creating home.