Don Terner changed my life. I first met Don as a burnt-out, lost graduate student at University of California Berkeley in 1976. In the 20-plus years I knew Don, I witnessed firsthand his remarkable ability to inspire and lead his colleagues and friends in his relentless pursuit to build affordable housing. Don approached the never ending affordable housing production shortfall with a laser focus and unbridled enthusiasm. This attitude/method became his mantra, “Whatever It Takes.”
Don was innovative and passionate. In 1973, he founded the radical nonprofit U-HAB (The Urban Housing Assistance Board).
This was the first organization to seriously support low-income persons who sought affordable shelter in New York's abandoned buildings. Don's vision led to the establishment of processes for low-income families to organize and take control of these buildings. U-HAB also helped arrange loans for building materials and provided technical assistance to people that wanted to earn “sweat equity” by providing the labor to renovate their spaces. To date, U-HAB has assisted more than 25,000 families in New York and is led by one of Don's former students, Andy Reicher.
Don went on to lead the California Department of Housing and Community Development under Jerry Brown. Under Don's leadership, the department was able to get more than 100 housing-related bills introduced ... more than half of which passed during his tenure in office (1978-1982).
On Jan. 3, 1983, I had the honor to join Don as his business partner with a stated goal to create a “new” regional nonprofit housing developer that could lead the way in developing large quantities of high-quality affordable homes for working families that were priced out of the San Francisco Bay Area market. The mission we laid out was audacious and bold. BRIDGE would build thousands of homes in partnership with public and private parties. BRIDGE is more than 25 years old now, and we lost Don in our 13th year. Under Carol Galante's (another former student) leadership, BRIDGE went into another gear as an industry leader. With Carol's recent departure to serve the Obama administration and the unprecedented market upheaval, BRIDGE is at another important crossroad, and Don is watching. All of us that knew and loved Don are prepared to do “Whatever It Takes” to continue his dream of affordable housing for all of our citizens.
Rick Holliday is chairman of BRIDGE Housing Corp. and president of Holliday Development.