The Sister Lillian Murphy Community brings affordable housing options and community resources to the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco.
Bruce Damonte The Sister Lillian Murphy Community brings affordable housing options and community resources to the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco.

Sister Lillian Murphy’s legacy continues at a new affordable housing development in San Francisco.

Murphy, who died in 2019, led Mercy Housing, one of the nation’s largest affordable housing organizations, for 27 years before retiring in 2014.

Mercy Housing honors the longtime housing leader with its newest property, the Sister Lillian Murphy Community, a 152-unit building in her hometown.

One of Murphy’s core beliefs was “building housing is not an act of charity, it’s an act of justice,” said Doug Shoemaker, president of Mercy Housing California. “That’s why we’re here.”

The development provides affordable housing options to families in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets. Units range in size from studios to five-bedroom apartments and have the unique opportunity to serve multigenerational households. Twenty-five percent of the units are set aside for residents from the Sunnydale public housing development.

The building also features two community-serving commercial tenants offering priority registration to resident—Blue Bear School of Music and Kai Ming, an early child care facility.

 London Breed
London Breed

It’s fitting that the development bears Murphy’s name, said San Francisco mayor London Breed. “The people who are fortunate enough to have access to affordable housing, a beautiful place to call home, are fortunate because of the work she has done,” she said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony this week.

Located in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, Sister Lillian Murphy Community is just a few blocks from the University of California San Francisco medical campus as well as the new Chase Center, a sports and entertainment arena that’s home to the Golden State Warriors.

The approximately $118 million development was financed with low-income housing tax credits from the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee and investor Bank of America. Other funders include the San Francisco Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, California Department of Housing and Community Development, and the California Community Reinvestment Corp.

The celebration of the new community was attended by Mercy Housing president and CEO Ismael Guerrero, former CEO Jane Graf, founder Patricia O’Roark, and members of Murphy’s family.

“Her willingness to help people who are underserved in our community, her caring heart, and her perseverance has been ingrained through our whole family,” said Jessie Cahill, Murphy’s niece. “She was and still is a role model for our whole family.”

40 Years of Mercy Housing

Under Murphy’s leadership, Mercy Housing expanded from a small regional housing development organization with about 250 homes to a national leader that provides affordable housing to nearly 45,000 residents in 21 states.

The nonprofit began when O’Roark, then Sister Timothy Marie O’Roark, was a young attorney with the Legal Aid Society in Omaha. Through her work, she saw families getting evicted often for minor issues. Believing that more could be done, O’Roark put together a proposal for a housing ministry. Undaunted by the challenge, the Sisters of Mercy in Omaha got behind the plan.

In 1981, Sister Mary Terese Tracy, a nurse and hospital administrator in Idaho, became Mercy Housing’s first CEO. Many of the sisters had experience in health care and fields other than housing. Still, Tracy and and O’Roark carefully set the foundation for Mercy Housing.

Murphy took over the organization in 1987 after starting her career in hospital administration. While working at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco, she was involved in the development of a senior housing project. It would be the start of her becoming a fierce housing advocate.

O’Roark attributes Mercy Housing’s success to a “confluence of several keys.” First is the dedication of the sisters and their ability to bring in others who understood how to develop affordable housing early on. Murphy was another key. “She could see bigger,” O’Roark told AHF.

As Mercy Housing grew, the team also recognized the importance of not only owning but managing its developments and providing a wide range of services for its residents.

Over the years, the nonprofit has served more than 152,000 people, including families, seniors, veterans, and individuals who have been homeless.