“We take care of our own”
Windy Hill Foundation expands its reach in forming development company
- May 30, 2014
The Windy Hill Foundation made a big decision a few years back. Although it is a charitable enterprise, it would go into business. Now, the nonprofit is turning a profit by doing what it knows how to do best: create affordable, green housing.
The private, Middleburg-based foundation, which has 538 active donors — all anonymous — started in 1981 with the modest goal of improving living conditions at Windy Hill, a neighborhood at the west end of the little town in the heart of western Loudoun County’s hunt country.
The 12 African-American families who lived at Windy Hill used outhouses and had to haul their drinking water in buckets from a couple of community spigots. The foundation raised $1 million to buy nine houses from their landlord, and, with the help of a HUD grant, brought living conditions into the late 20th century. The cottages at Windy Hill still are part of the foundation’s inventory of affordable rental housing.
But the foundation didn’t stop there. Despite Middleburg’s association with toney boutiques and grand estates, many people — some of whom worked in those shops and on those fabulous equestrian spreads — were struggling to make ends meet. Windy Hill stepped up to help them.
“We take care of our own,” says Kim Hart, the foundation’s longtime executive director, citing the foundation’s policy of giving affordable housing priority to those who live or work within 10 miles of Middleburg.
Low monthly rents
Monthly rents at Windy Hill properties in Middleburg are hard to beat. They range from $400 to $975, far below the $1,239 for one-bedroom, $1,469 for two-bedroom, and $1,885 for three-bedroom units that HUD considers fair market rents in Loudoun and Fauquier counties. The units come with annual leases, “and almost everyone renews,” Hart says.
Despite the low rents, the properties don’t look at all down-market.
Virginia Lane, a 14-unit multifamily development won a design award from Loudoun County and has an advanced heating and cooling system that keeps utility bills low. Levis Hill House, a 20-unit building for the low-income elderly and disabled, was the first apartment building in the county to win an Energy Star award for being green. It features a rain garden to minimize pollution from its own runoff and that of the fire station next door.
Hart says Windy Hill Foundation is the only nonprofit that offers affordable rental housing in western Loudoun County, and it now has expanded to 67 rental units in Middleburg. Those units house a rather remarkable 20 percent of the town’s population (which hovers around 700 people).
“We’re proud to have them as part of our town,” says Middleburg Mayor Betsy Allen Davis. “What we lose in taxes [because of the foundation’s nonprofit status] is a small price to pay to help people.”
The foundation’s last project in Middleburg was Virginia Lane, completed in 2004. “We’re built out,” Hart says, “but does that mean we fold our tent? Maybe we have an obligation to help our neighbors.”
Moving beyond its base
So, rather than waste more than 30 years of experience in funding and building workplace housing, in 2005 the foundation formed the Windy Hill Development Co. to work on affordable, green projects outside its home base. All net profits would come back to the foundation.
The development company’s first project, the 16-unit Piedmont Lane in the nearby hamlet of The Plains, was completed in 2012. It produced $170,000 in development fees, or 10 percent of the foundation’s $1.7 million in income for that year. The extra money allowed the foundation to expand services, such as tutoring, recreational programs and health screenings that are part of its mission to improve the lives of its Middleburg tenants.
Piedmont Lane was built to look like a row of Virginia farmhouses to fit with the ambience of The Plains, a picturesque village. The real innovative thinking, however, is hidden underground. Its geothermal heating and cooling system, using pipe donated by REHAU, a German company with its North American headquarters in Leesburg, was a first for housing built with the help of the Virginia Housing Development Authority’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program. Piedmont Lane also was named one of the three most energy-efficient apartment buildings in Virginia by green-building certifier EarthCraft.
Vickie Atkins lives at Piedmont Lane with her children, Nicholas, 7, and Brooke, 18. Atkins was laid off from her job and lost her home and car when the economy went sour a few years back — and she was pregnant. Today, she has a job within walking distance of her home, her kids have their own rooms for the first time, and she recently was able to afford to send her daughter on a senior trip.
“We are making it on our own,” Atkins says. She pays $1,075 for a three-bedroom, all-electric apartment. Thanks to the geothermal system, her heat and electric bills have never cost more than $80 a month.
The nonprofit advantage
Windy Hill partnered with TM Associates on developing Piedmont Lane, and it is now co-owner with the property management company, which also handles its Middleburg properties. That partnership is continuing on a second project in Brambleton in eastern Loudoun County.
“A community-based nonprofit is able to bring resources such as funding mechanisms that are not available to for-profit companies,” says Adam Stockmaster, a vice president of TM Associates. “Windy Hill has an excellent relationship with Loudoun County.”
The first apartments in the 98-unit project in Brambleton called Shreveport Ridge will open in increments beginning in June. Like Piedmont Lane, the development has a geothermal system. “Cheaper electric bills allow more people to qualify for housing,” Hart says.
And this year, thanks to contributions from its for-profit arm, the Windy Hill Foundation is for the first time ever “at break even.” That means it can put more money toward family services and foundation operations. “This,” Hart says, “is where we want to be.”