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National Housing Conference honors two of housing’s greats

Sister Lillian Murphy and Professor Nicolas P. Retsinas dedicated careers to shape housing policy

June 23, 2011

WASHINGTON—More than 800 of the who’s who of the housing industry will gather at the historic National Building Museum to honor two people who have dedicated their lives to meeting America’s affordable housing needs.  Nic Retsinas, a Harvard Business School professor who has spent his life in public service in the housing arena, and Sister Lillian Murphy, CEO of Mercy Housing—one of the nation’s largest nonprofits—agreed that while the budget for providing housing help may be shrinking, the need is growing.

Professor Nicolas P. Retsinas

Retsinas, who is also set to moderate a discussion on the future of America’s mortgage finance system on Friday, said that “the decision on the table is what will the role of the federal government be in mortgage finance, and what support will be provided for that role.” 

Retsinas has long been at the forefront of U.S. housing policy. 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.

Sister Lillian Murphy, RSM

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.  She’d like to find a better 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,” she said.  “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 said.

After joining Mercy in 1959 and seeing the connection between health and housing, she realized that “housing is fundamental to healthy living.” In 1981, the Sisters of Mercy in Omaha created Mercy Housing to alleviate residents’ health and education problems linked to poor access to decent, affordable housing. 

Read full profiles on this year’s honorees

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