People notice when J. Ronald Terwilliger, one of the best-known executives in the multifamily industry, champions a cause. So Terwilliger turned heads when he recently put his money where his mouth is: Instead of just talking about the serious need for workforce housing, he gave millions of his own dollars to the Urban Land Institute to create a center for workforce housing.
“I have committed $5 million to start this center because I believe in the urgency of expanding workforce housing,” says Terwilliger, chairman and CEO of Trammell Crow Residential. “In communities everywhere, there is a natural resistance to affordable housing. Everyone believes in providing decent housing when you ask the question, but no one wants people making less money living next to them.”
The center, headquartered in Washington, D.C., will work with ULI district councils and housing-related organizations in both the private and public sectors to create models for mixed-income design, development, and financing. The center aims to reduce barriers to workforce housing production by raising awareness of the affordability gap and advocating changes in public policy such as greater use of inclusionary zoning, which offers development incentives such as density bonuses in exchange for the provision of a certain percentage of below-market-rate units.
“Some find it odd that I, as a private developer, am a staunch advocate of mandatory inclusionary zoning,” says Terwilliger. “But based on my experience in regions across the United States, I feel that mandatory inclusionary zoning is one of the most effective tools to get housing built that people can afford.”
The center's initial goal is to create at least 3,500 units of workforce housing (typically for people earning between 60 percent and 120 percent of the area's median income) within five years in the Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Southeast Florida markets. These areas were picked because they have strong district councils already active in workforce housing and are easily accessible to Terwilliger so he can personally be involved, says John McIlwain, senior resident fellow at ULI and the institute's J. Ronald Terwilliger chair for housing. The next areas of focus are expected to include Denver, Seattle, Orange County, and Los Angeles.
The new center is already making headlines in newspapers and trade publications across the country, and industry leaders expect that attention to only increase. “There's a very large market segment that needs assistance, and I do think this will help bring awareness to that,” says Steve Peelor, senior vice president of finance for Century Housing, a Culver City, Calif.-based affordable housing lender. “A lot of the way the issue has been [traditionally] presented politically has to do with folks who are really bedrock elements of society—police, firefighters, teachers, nurses. But it's more than just those people. The biggest [portion] of the working families who aren't served by the housing market are people who work in clothing stores, auto repair shops, and offices as low-level clerical workers.”