Mary Murtagh of San Rafael’s EAH Housing wins Nonprofit Leadership Award

Mary Murtagh, president and CEO, EAH Housing, San Rafael


Mary Murtagh of San Rafael’s EAH Housing has won one of North Bay Business Journal’s Nonprofit Leadership Awards.

Describe your organization

Established in 1968, EAH Housing has become one of the largest and most respected nonprofit affordable housing development and management organizations in the western United States. Based in San Rafael, and with a staff of more than 475, EAH manages more than 110 properties in California and Hawaii, and plays a leadership role in local, regional and national housing advocacy efforts.

Starting in Marin County from grassroots origins in the aftermath of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., EAH Housing now provides housing and robust services to more than 20,000 seniors, families, students, people with disabilities, veterans and the formerly homeless.

I am still amazed at how big our organization has grown — but the credit for this success goes to the whole EAH team. What an honor it is to work with such a talented and dedicated group of people.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I was raised in a university town in New Hampshire, home of Dartmouth College. I received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nonprofit Housing Association in 2013. During the same year, EAH received the Heart of Marin award. I was inducted into the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame in 2008. My husband and I raised two sons in Berkeley.

Family is my first priority. Our sons are grown, but whenever I can steal a free evening with my husband, I love to watch the Warriors or go out to listen to some live jazz or some good old rock and roll.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Leading the growth of EAH from a well-respected but small grassroots agency with about a dozen properties in Marin County 30 years ago into one of California’s largest most successful nonprofit affordable-housing developers. EAH will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.

What is your biggest challenge today?

Despite the recent affordable-housing package approved by the Legislature and governor this fall, we are still far short of sufficient funding, land-use approvals and public support to produce anywhere near the amount of affordable housing, that is sorely needed across the Bay Area and the state. What used to be a housing crisis has since grown into a catastrophe. How sad it is that we are seeing our kids fleeing to other states.

What is the next major project either underway or on the horizon?

We have broken ground on a fabulous new project in Emeryville called Estrella Vista. When it’s finished in about 18 months, it will provide 87 units of affordable housing, with many large units for families. The units will be reserved for families earning 20 percent–60 percent of the area median income (AMI). A transit-oriented mixed-use development, it will allow convenient access between work, home and other uses and services.

In addition, the development will add vitality to the local neighborhood, neighbors and businesses. The community will have beautiful indoor and outdoor common areas for residents and will utilize sustainable sources of energy, including solar thermal generation and a photovoltaic (PV) system. The project is pursuing LEED Gold certification.

What product or service would/or is helping you do your job more effectively?

The ability to dictate to my Macbook. (I’ll let Apple find a way to thank me for the plug.)

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

Affordable-housing providers will have to be strictly focused on reducing construction costs and creative new strategies for meeting the overwhelming need, such as micro-units, artist housing, etc. (Along with this, we need a truly regional, robust transit system.)

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, for his commitment to building 10,000 new units of housing to go along with the San Jose expansion. Great leadership!

Current reading: “Give Us the Ballot” by Ari Berman. It’s a painful but illuminating history of the ongoing effort to deprive minorities in America of their voting rights.

Most want to meet: President Obama

Stress-relievers: Reading detective fiction

Favorite hobbies: Photography

Social media you most use: LinkedIn

Buzzword from your industry you hate the most: “Game-changer”

Typical day at the office: I spend about two or three days a week in the office, and it’s meetings back to back.

Best place to work outside of the office: Home kitchen

Words that best describe you: Leader, tenacious, passionate, advocate, caring.

Anything you want to add?

I have dedicated my life and career to the vulnerable people of our society who need decent affordable housing and social services to thrive. My success is reflected in the enhanced lives of thousands of seniors, families and people with disabilities who live in EAH’s beautiful housing developments in the North Bay, throughout the State of California, and in Hawaii.