J. Ronald Terwilliger has fond memories of growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, in the 1940s and 1950s.
He played outside with the other kids on his street until well after dark. He walked or biked wherever he needed to go. He did not feel rich or poor; he felt he was part of the community. That sense of belonging, seeded in the comfort of being able to equate housing with home and security, would ultimately shape a commitment he made decades later to expand and improve housing options in communities around the world.
Now an internationally renowned housing expert and a champion of affordable and workforce housing, Terwilliger, 72, a former ULI chairman and the chairman emeritus of Trammell Crow Residential, has been selected as the 2013 recipient of the Urban Land Institute J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. The Institute’s highest honor, the Nichols Prize recognizes a person, or a person representing an institution, who has demonstrated a longtime commitment to the creation of communities that prosper by providing a high quality of life for all residents, and that reflect the highest standards of design and development. The $100,000 prize honors the legacy of Kansas City, Missouri, developer J.C. Nichols, a founding ULI member considered one of America’s most creative entrepreneurs in land use during the first half of the 1900s.
Terwilliger, founder of the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing, is being recognized for his extraordinary civic and philanthropic efforts to raise awareness of decent housing as a basic human need, with a particular emphasis on increasing the supply of housing that is both affordable to the workforce and close to transit and employment centers. “In my professional life, I’ve seen housing strengthen health, education, families, communities, and economies,” Terwilliger says. “In my philanthropic life, I’ve tried to demonstrate my belief that hope begins with access to a decent, affordable home. I want to help ensure a leveraged, sustained impact beyond my lifetime and inspire others to make the commitment to support affordable housing.”
“What separates Ron from a great many people is that not only does he contribute financial resources to what he’s involved in and what he feels is important, but the fact that he is willing to give his time, his knowledge, and his experience,” says Nichols Prize jury chairman John L. Bucksbaum, chief executive officer of Bucksbaum Retail Properties LLC in Chicago. “Very few people do this. It’s a testament to the type of person Ron is.”
“The Nichols Prize is about community building, insight, and visionary development. It’s a highly visible symbol of ULI. Ron Terwilliger touches all those bases,” adds jury member Ronald A. Altoon, founder and partner at Altoon Partners LLP in Los Angeles.
Terwilliger’s advocacy work in the arena of housing affordability has built momentum over the past two decades, evolving into a full-time commitment in the latter 2000s as he wound down his highly successful career as Trammell Crow Residential’s chief executive officer. As ULI chairman from 1999 to 2001, he regularly spoke and wrote about the need for affordable and mixed-income housing, and at the conclusion of his term, he provided ULI with an endowment to support a senior resident fellow position focused on housing. In 2007, Terwilliger committed $5 million—the largest individual gift ever contributed to ULI at the time—to establish the ULI J. Ronald Terwilliger Center for Housing, which engages in a multifaceted program of work to further the development of mixed-income, mixed-use communities with a full spectrum of housing. Also in 2007, he contributed $5 million to Enterprise Community Partners, where he currently serves as chairman of the board, to support affordable housing development through the Enterprise Terwilliger Fund.
“Ron shows up. He’s caring; he’s concerned. He has a way of cutting through the rhetoric and getting to a solution,” says jury member James D. Klingbeil, former chairman of ULI and the ULI Foundation, and chairman and chief executive officer of Klingbeil Capital Management in San Francisco. “He’s really moved the whole quest for affordable housing forward with his money, his time, his intuition, and his leadership. Ron basically embodies the process of sharing and giving back, which is what ULI is all about.”
Terwilliger’s interest in affordable housing became a global pursuit as a result of his increased involvement with Habitat for Humanity International in the 2000s. In 2009, he announced a $100 million legacy gift to the housing organization—the largest donation Habitat has ever received from an individual—which will help an estimated 60,000 low-income families around the world improve their housing. A member of Habitat’s board of directors since 2000, he has served as the board chairman for the organization and is the global chair for its “A World of Hope: It Starts at Home” fundraising campaign.
“Ron cares deeply about housing issues in the United States, but he has grown a huge heart for how desperate the situation is in other countries around the world,” says Habitat chief executive officer Jonathan Reckford. (Habitat estimates that more than one billion people worldwide lack access to adequate housing.) “He understands that housing is as important as education and medical care [as a fundamental need]. . . . They are all inextricably linked together. It is quite rare for someone to be so passionate about affordable housing. Ron’s commitment to impacting the affordable housing environment both domestically and internationally is extraordinary.”
Terwilliger was named the National Housing Council’s Housing Person of the Year in 2009 in recognition of his inspirational leadership. “Ron gets the value of a house being a home—a home you can be proud of,” explains Nichols jury member F. Barton Harvey, board member of Fannie Mae in Washington, D.C. “He has put his success and his reputation on the line to really work for the inclusion of those that have the least in our society.”
Terwilliger’s interest in affordable housing (generally targeted to households making 50 percent or less of area median income) and in workforce housing (generally targeted to those making up to 120 percent of area median income) is rooted in a combination of experiences—his modest upbringing in northern Virginia; his work in the early 1970s as a young professional for Charles Fraser at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina; and 23 years (from 1986 through 2009) as the chief executive of Trammell Crow Residential, which under his leadership became the nation’s largest developer of multifamily housing. (While at Trammell Crow Residential, based in Atlanta at the time, Terwilliger chaired the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, working closely with then-Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin.) Each of these experiences, in different ways, reinforced his decision to champion mixed-income housing as a way to increase the availability of attractive affordable and workforce housing.
At Sea Pines, Fraser’s team learned to think of housing development not just in terms of building places to live, but also as a way to provide a total living experience for people in a broad income range. “At Sea Pines, Charles [Fraser] taught us to think in terms of what it was like to live in a place, and I believe this helped shape Ron’s commitment to not just provide shelter, but to provide a total residential experience,” explains former ULI chairman James J. Chaffin Jr., who worked with Terwilliger at Sea Pines and is now chairman of Chaffin Light Management LLC in Okatie, South Carolina. In the decades since, Terwilliger’s focus has been on how to “provide places for families to live affordably and enjoy a high quality of life,” Chaffin adds.
Under Terwilliger’s leadership at Trammell Crow Residential, the company built more than 250,000 multifamily rental units. And while it did use incentives from a 1981 tax law to build some below-market-rate units, the majority of the company’s product was—and continues to be—market rate.
“At Trammell Crow, we were serving a clientele who could afford market-rate housing. But to a large extent we were not reaching a lot of people [priced out of the apartments],” Terwilliger says. His years in development convinced him of the potential for the private sector to produce attractive low-cost housing—if provided with incentives to mitigate problems such as rising land costs, zoning limitations, and other risk factors. “When properly motivated, the private sector is very efficient and certainly the best equipped to create this type of housing,” he explains.
For several years, Terwilliger has advocated incentives at various levels of government to encourage affordable and workforce housing development, such as the adoption of inclusionary zoning requirements by local jurisdictions and the expansion of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (enacted in 1987), which is the main federal incentive still available to spur private development of affordable housing. “We as a country need to allocate more resources to provide decent housing for every American family—not for the purpose of eliminating personal responsibility, but to offer people who need help a hand up,” he says.
Two years ago, Terwilliger was asked to serve on the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Commission, created following the housing industry collapse to help reform the nation’s housing policy and address near- and long-term challenges facing the housing sector. Earlier this year, the commission issued recommendations to the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress on scaling back the government’s role in the nation’s housing finance system and revising housing assistance programs to better meet the needs of America’s most vulnerable households.
“Ron is a voice for fairness, a voice for balance in American housing policy, and a voice for facing up to our most pressing housing needs in realistic ways,” says Henry Cisneros, former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development and a cochair of the Housing Commission. When the commission was preparing its policy recommendations, Terwilliger was the most ardent supporter for a better balance between federal subsidies that support homeownership and those that support rental housing—specifically affordable rentals, Cisneros says. “No one on the commission was more insistent or persuasive than Ron. His arguments were unassailable. Ron has a big heart and a sense of fairness, and that, matched with his experience and power of analysis, is a powerful combination to get things done.”
Nichols Prize jury member and former ULI chairman Marilyn J. Taylor also serves on the Housing Commission. “Ron is one of the most effective and influential advocates of forward-looking housing policies I’ve ever known,” says Taylor, dean of and Paley Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design in Philadelphia. “He is showing public leaders how private [sector] investment in housing can achieve the longstanding elusive goal of decent housing and a suitable living environment for every American.”
“I know how important it is to give people a chance,” Terwilliger says. “And that chance starts with a decent house a family can afford in a suitable neighborhood. . . . If the first half of your business life is for success, the second half should be for significance. I’m in my second half, and I’m hoping to make a difference.”
Since the creation of the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing, ULI has released several publications related to housing affordability, including a series that documented the transportation and housing cost burden of workers in Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Last year, ULI published the award-winning Housing America’s Workforce, which showcases best practices in workforce and mixed-income housing development. The case studies in the book are recipients of the center’s Jack Kemp Workforce Housing Models of Excellence Awards, named in remembrance of the former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, who served on the Terwilliger Center’s advisory board. Earlier this year, the center released “America in 2013,” the first in an annual series of research reports examining consumer preferences in housing, transportation, and communities. In addition, the center regularly convenes housing experts from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors to examine a range of housing issues and trends and discuss how best to catalyze development of mixed-income housing.
“Ron’s level of involvement and his example of giving back are exceptional. Together, his industry expertise and passion for housing make him an incredibly effective advocate for a cause that is critical to improving the quality of life for people worldwide,” says ULI chief executive officer Patrick L. Phillips. “He is a doer who is absolutely committed to making a measurable difference. Our Institute, our industry, and our communities have been made all the better for his leadership.”