Helping others – seniors, the disabled, the economically disadvantaged – to find affordable housing has been Mary Murtagh’s primary focus since college. After graduating cum laude from Wellesley College, she studied architecture at M.I.T. Mary was assigned to design a bus shelter in a public housing project, and saw for the first time the reality of urban poverty. She was motivated to be part of the solution and abandoned architecture to become involved in urban problems, housing policy and real estate finance.
Mary believes that poverty is very often a women’s issue that has a cascading effect due to discrimination and flawed social policies. Early in her career, Mary saw that the security of housing would provide a secure foundation to give disadvantaged women and their families an opportunity to succeed.
Today Mary serves as President and CEO at EAH Housing, (Ecumenical Association for Housing) and has overseen EAH develop over 5,500 units in forty-two municipalities in California and Hawaii, places where “affordable housing” is often an oxymoron.
Mary served as Assistant Deputy Administrator of the Community Redevelopment Agency in Los Angeles and Development Officer for the Urban Development Action Program of HUD. She spearheaded a $4 million renovation of the 174-unit Arlington Hotel in San Francisco for St. Vincent de Paul, an award-winning development, one of the first ‘sober’ residential complexes in the nation for recovering alcoholics.
Mary’s perseverance, innovation, enormous energy, leadership ability and focus on affordable housing has proven to be her life-defining work: growing EAH from a small grassroots organization with sixteen properties in Marin to a nationally recognized non-profit housing development, management and advocacy organization serving over 18,000 individuals in two states.
Her innovative policy changes at EAH Housing have included access to technology for EAH residents, a corporate-wide “green” policy, programs for women re-entering the job force, residential training programs and child care facilities. Mary championed the first computer learning center in HUD’s Western Region, a network of 13 centers in EAH developments. She is committed to preserving properties at risk of conversion to Market Rate housing by keeping them available for low-income families and seniors.
From bureaucracy and NIMBYs, dried-up financial support systems, to an ever increasing demand for affordable housing, Mary has faced set-backs and challenges with grit and tenacity. Whether it is Edgewater Place, Mackey Terrace, Cecilia Place or one of a dozen others, she sees each property as a vital safe harbor for families who are working hard to keep their lives together.
The Hall of Fame is proud of Mary’s enduring quest to provide affordable housing for those in need.