August 17, 2020

Contact: Christine Hunsinger


RIHousing Announces Inaugural Michael Van Leesten Awards Program
Awards program supports and opens doors for tomorrow’s housing leaders

Providence, RI – RIHousing today announced a new awards program to honor the life and work of Michael Van Leesten. Born and raised in Providence, Van Leesten was dedicated to improving the lives of Rhode Islanders through his business leadership, civil rights activism, and public service. The newly established Michael Van Leesten Memorial Awards program honors his lifelong commitment to housing and education and includes both a scholarship program and fellowship position.

“Now more than ever, we need to open doors and create pathways for young people pursuing careers in the housing industry,” said Carol Ventura, Executive Director of RIHousing. “Mike was a tireless advocate and passionate civil servant, and it is in the spirit of his service to our state, that we are launching this program to continue his work and encourage and grow the next generation of leaders in Rhode Island.”

Van Leesten was a founder and Executive Director of Opportunities Industrialization Center of Rhode Island, a non-profit offering career coaching, job training, and support for small businesses in urban communities. He served as the Chairman of RIHousing from 1987-1991 and held leadership positions with the Rhode Island Chapter of the NAACP, the Rhode Island Urban League, and the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society.

“At a perilous time, Michael Van Leesten led RIHousing through a transformative period to become a more effective, more transparent and more accountable public agency,” said Nicolas P. Retsinas, Chairman of the RIHousing Board of Commissioners. “His leadership and direction are alive in everything RIHousing does to this day. We have not forgotten the lessons and example he provided.”

To support students pursuing education and training related to housing, RIHousing is offering two $5,000 scholarship awards, one for a student pursuing a license in the construction trades and a second scholarship for a student pursuing a degree in finance, economics, or public policy, with a focus on mortgage finance and housing markets. The agency is also offering a paid Research & Policy Fellowship for students to develop professional experience in housing policy, research, and analysis.

All Rhode Island residents are eligible to apply, regardless of whether they are pursuing education and/or training in Rhode Island or another state. Additional consideration will be given to applicants from socially or economically disadvantaged groups, including minorities, women, veterans, and people with disabilities.

Interested applicants should visit for additional information and how to apply.