While J. Ronald Terwilliger is known for his track record of success as chairman and CEO of Trammell Crow Residential, which became the nation’s largest developer of multifamily housing under his leadership, he’s become a force in the affordable housing industry since his retirement as CEO in 2008.
Terwilliger, who’s worked in the housing industry for more than 45 years, has become a tireless advocate, a philanthropist, and a leader in addressing the nation’s affordability crisis.
“Working across the United States, it was apparent to me that we couldn’t reach everyone with market-rate development,” the Trammell Crow chairman emeritus says.
Based in Atlanta, Terwilliger became involved with affordable housing close to home. Wanting Trammell Crow to have a national charity to which partners could apply their professional and charitable endeavors, he reached out to Habitat for Humanity International founder Millard Fuller in nearby Americus, Ga.
“He knew I was a multifamily developer and turned me down,” he laughs.
But Terwilliger persisted by going to a Habitat build with partner Leonard Wood and their wives and soon became a key supporter. He joined Habitat for Humanity International’s board of directors in 2000 and was named chairman in 2007, giving more than $3 million during that time. At the conclusion of his term as chairman, he announced a $100 million legacy gift to Habitat—the largest donation from an individual in the nonprofit’s history—that’s expected to help 60,000 families. He continues to serve Habitat as chairman of the Global Capital Campaign.
Terwilliger also worked closely with former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, co-chairing her Affordable Workforce Housing Implementation Task Force with former Atlanta Housing Authority CEO Renee Glover, and served as chairman of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership.
While winding down his leadership at Trammell Crow in the late 2000s, Terwilliger ramped up his affordable housing efforts.
“When you’re fortunate to build wealth in the housing arena and come from nothing, you have a responsibility to give back to other people,” says Terwilliger.
His generosity has extended to other organizations, as well. He committed the largest individual financial contribution ever made to the Urban Land Institute (ULI) at the time—$5 million—to establish the ULI Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing to aid in housing affordability. He also committed $5 million to Enterprise Community Partners to create the Enterprise Terwilliger Fund, targeted to create 2,000 affordable homes annually. He currently serves as chairman of the Enterprise Community Partners board of trustees and vice chairman of Enterprise Community Investment.
“An untold number of lives are better as a result of Ron’s leadership in our industry,” says Terri Ludwig, president and CEO of Enterprise Community Partners. “He’s been a tireless champion for affordable housing in communities across the country, and as chair of Enterprise’s board, his guidance, vision, and tremendous support continue to be invaluable. We are so grateful to Ron for all that he does.”
Terwilliger was a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Commission, which issued a report calling for an expansion of the low-income housing tax credit by 50% and reform of the housing voucher program.
But most recently, he has been on a journey to elevate the conversation regarding affordable housing. He established the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families in 2014 to educate policymakers about the nation’s rental affordability crisis.
To raise the issue, the Foundation hosted the New Hampshire Housing Summit prior to the primary in 2015, where seven of the presidential candidates discussed how they’d address housing if elected president.
In July, the Foundation hosted a benefit concert at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to draw attention to the crisis and support the Make Room campaign, which gives a voice to the 11 million households struggling to make rent each month.
After the election and just two days after being honored as an Affordable Housing Hall of Fame inductee at AHF Live next month, Terwilliger and the Foundation will host a national housing forum at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas to ensure that housing is at the forefront for the 115th Congress and the new presidential administration.
Terwilliger says Congress needs to pass legislation to add to the supply of affordable workforce housing and provide other solutions, such as additional vouchers or a rental tax credit to deliver to families who are housing cost burdened.
“We need to raise the profile of affordable housing, and then we’re going to get busy to get legislation ready,” he says. “We’re going to need a few champions to get legislation passed to address the silent housing crisis.”