Harvard Director To Lead Habitat

Retsinas elected chair of international volunteer group

Nicolas P. Retsinas, director of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) and a lecturer in housing studies, was recently elected chair of the international panel of Habitat for Humanity.

“I am honored and humbled to play a small role in what is an outstanding organization,” said Retsinas, who added that Habitat for Humanity’s power lay in its simplicity.

According to Retsinas, Habitat has now completed home-building projects in 95 countries around the world and 715 communities in the United States alone.

Retsinas has served on the board of Habitat for nine years, previously as vice-chair. He also recently co-authored a book called Opportunity and Progress: A Bipartisam Platform for National Housing Policy.

“Everyone ought to have a decent place to live,” Retsinas said. “We have the opportunity to help build 40,000 homes in the next five years.”

M. Elizabeth England, program coordinator for JCHS, spoke of her admiration for Retsinas and his commitment for home-ownership. She described his new position as a “full-time job on top of his full-time job.”

She said that he could use his connections at Harvard and his access to different people in the community to help others.

In addition to his new management duties, Retsinas will continue with on-site projects with fellow volunteers.

“When I started here, we as an office decided to do a Habitat build every year,” said England. “One day during the summer, Nick and all the researchers go on a house-building project.”

England described her first build, 18 years ago, working on the same roof as her hero, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Both Retsinas and England characterized Habitat builds as rewarding experiences that they plan to continue to participate in.

According to England, JCHS is “non-prescriptive,” but produces the pure research that organizations like Habitat use to promote their own initiatives. JCHS, which is affiliated with the Kennedy School of Government and the Graduate School of Design, publishes a State of the Nation Housing Report every year, which presents research on the state of the economy, housing statistics, home ownership numbers for women and minorities, and other findings.

“He’s always great to talk to. He’s very receptive to anything Habitat,” said Joanna J. Parga ’07, secretary of the domestic board and international trip leader of Habitat for Humanity’s Harvard chapter. Parga, who is also a Crimson editor, described the numerous builds that Habitat is offering this year, including one during intersession to aid Hurricane Katrina victims.

Helene T. V. Nguyen ’06, co-president of Harvard’s Habitat chapter, said, “With his high position in Habitat, it’s a great contact to have to get speakers and for administrative support.”

Prior to his current post at Harvard, Retsinas was assistant secretary for Housing-Federal Housing Commissioner at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and director of the Office of Thrift Supervision.

Since its establishment in 1976, Habitat volunteers have built over 200,000 houses, providing shelter for one million people.