Sister Lillian Murphy, who led Mercy Housing for nearly 30 years, died today in San Francisco. She was 78.
Murphy joined the nonprofit in 1987 as its second CEO and grew the organization into one of the nation’s largest affordable housing developers and owners. During her tenure, she was one of the nation’s leading voices for affordable housing and the needs of low-income people.
When Murphy joined Mercy Housing, the Denver-based group had a modest 220 units, 620 residents, and a staff of 20. Today, it provides homes to nearly 45,000 residents with over 1,500 employees in 21 states.
Murphy, who retired in 2014, was inducted into Affordable Housing Finance’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
Murphy was the seventh of eight children. Her father, an Irishman, never lost his brogue as he raised his family in San Francisco. He worked as an upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad and chairman of his union. Once all the kids were in school, her mother worked for a wholesale grocer.
Joining the Sisters of Mercy in 1959, Murphy started her career in hospital administration. While working at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco, she became involved in the development of Mercy Terrace, a seniors housing project, around 1980.
Several years later, Mercy Housing needed a new leader. “I said, ˜Well I can do this for three to five years and then come back to health care.' That was 22 years ago,” Murphy told AHF in 2009.
Over the years, the organization has developed a wide range of affordable housing. In a unique move, it has forged partnerships with nine major health-care systems, which have helped provide residents with increased access to health care.
One of her favorite messages was that housing is a means to an end.
“The end is to provide opportunities for people to stabilize their lives and achieve their dreams, whatever those are,” she said.