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J. Ronald Terwilliger has amassed a great number of accomplishments during his 40-year career, the past 30 of which he served as CEO of Trammell Crow Residential. Terwilliger, who retains the vice chairman title at the Dallas-based firm, stepped down from the CEO post last year. Yet from the looks of it, he’s not letting retirement slow him down one bit. Terwilliger is now using much of his new down time to help further a cause that is very important to him: the creation of affordable housing for working families around the world.

As part of that effort, he recently made a $100-million commitment to Habitat for Humanity, marking the largest donation from an individual in the organization’s history. The legacy gift is expected to help some 60,000 families around the world gain access to improved housing conditions.

With the donation to Habitat, says Terwilliger, “I want to help ensure a leveraged, sustained impact beyond my lifetime and inspire others to make the commitment to support affordable housing. There are more than 1.6 billion people around the world who live in poverty housing, and they need our help.”

The executive is, to say the least, immersed in the nonprofit world today. He joined Habitat’s International Board of Directors in 2000 and now serves as chair. He’s also chair of Habitat’s Global Capital Campaign and serves on the executive community of Enterprise Community Partners. He’s been a member of the governing boards of the Enterprise Foundation, US Naval Academy and the Urban Land Institute, which established the “J. Ronald Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing”, dedicated to ensuring that workforce housing is available in the future. If that’s not enough, he recently joined the board of New York’s ‘I Have a Dream Foundation’, which aims to provide a better education for disadvantaged youth.

GlobeSt.com recently caught up with Terwilliger to discuss his current work in the nonprofit community and the importance of housing for the country’s overall health.

GlobeSt.com: So, you’re retired now. What have you been up to lately?

Terwilliger: Last year, at the ripe young age of 67, I stepped aside as CEO of Trammel Crow Residential. I wanted to focus on my nonprofit work, my family and other interests. As chairman of TCR, I’m doing what I can to help our new CEO, Charles R. Brindell Jr., and other partners in the Crow family continue the tradition and success of the company. I’m very busy in the nonprofit community, though, mostly focused on housing issues.

GlobeSt.com: Your $100-million commitment to Habitat for Humanity is very generous–what prompted you to make that donation?

Terwilliger: It’s been building up for some time. In the past 10 to 15 years, I’ve gotten more focused on trying to help with affordable housing. As I’ve learned more about it, I’ve really redefined it as affordable workforce housing–this is for people who are working but don’t earn enough to have a decent home close to where they work. Whether it’s rental housing or homeownership, there are a lot of people making less than 120% of area median income that need help getting a decent place to live that’s close to where they work.

At Habitat, we finished one capital campaign, which Jack Kemp chaired, about three years ago and we were successful in raising $550 million, primarily from US sources. That enabled us to move the ministry forward and provide a lot more families with housing. So we began talking about another campaign, a global campaign. I’m finishing my term as chairman of Habitat this fall, and over the years I have given them several gifts. I decided that I would be willing to be a person who would give a lead gift to try to kick off the Global Capital Campaign and, at the same time, I would serve the next five years chairing that campaign.

So as I was doing my estate planning and, after leaving what I thought was a sufficient amount of money to my wife, children and grandchildren and my brother and his family, I believed I would have $100 million left over. I didn’t think I had to leave more to my family, and Habitat was the best place I could think of to give that money. They can leverage it to help tens of thousands of families around the world with simple, decent homes.

GlobeSt.com: Those funds are being split into two different programs under Habitat–70% is going to go toward housing micro-financing internationally, and the balance will go into the J. Ronald Terwilliger Leveraged Impact Fund, which will make annual distributions to help support affordable housing efforts. Why split it that way?

Terwilliger: It’s all going to be used for housing. The 70% for microfinance will likely be used outside of the US, where we are increasingly active in micro lending for housing solutions–people are fixing up their homes, digging wells to get potable water, adding rooms, and so forth. They’re making their habitats pleasant and healthy. The 30% going to the fund will probably be more focused on the US. Habitat is trying to find ways to provide maximum impact in the US by putting the equity up and borrowing inexpensive funds.

GlobeSt.com: You are very committed to the cause when it comes to providing housing to people in need. What can be done to increase or promote major philanthropy like this among those in the commercial real estate business?

Terwilliger: I think people in real estate-related industries would be more inclined to give to housing than people who are not. We hope that by publicizing this goal, which I was somewhat ambivalent about, it would draw attention both to the need for people to help with housing and maybe inspire and motivate people as they thought about their wills and estate planning, or if they’ve just thought about their annual giving priorities. Housing is very important to us. We know from our research that most charitable donations are going to arts and health and education. Very little seems to go to housing, and yet housing is so fundamental in a family’s health and sustainability. We’re trying to put a spotlight on housing.

GlobeSt.com: How is your charity work similar to your professional work? How do you apply your professional skills toward the nonprofit sphere?

Terwilliger: My wife once said it’s easier to give money than it is time. And as I’ve gotten toward the end of my for-profit career, I’ve begun to give a lot more time to nonprofits in housing, which is my expertise. I’ve spent most of my 40-year real estate career in housing, particularly rental. So I just decided to focus my energies on nonprofit work largely on housing and a good bit of my giving in the same vain.

GlobeSt.com: If tomorrow you decided to move to Bora Bora and cut off all communication with the outside world, what would be the one message you’d like to get across to the industry, and the world at large?

Terwilliger: The main message I’m trying to get across to people is you cannot rely on your federal government to solve the housing needs of your citizens. Individuals who have the wherewithal need to step up and contribute, and you need to pick an intermediary like Habitat or Enterprise–someone who is in the business of providing affordable housing for working families. If you don’t have a decent home, the chances of having good health or a good education are pretty slim—a lot of it starts at home. Housing is the fundamental building block for the family, and governments cannot do enough.

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