Focus on Habitational Contracting
WEAVERCOOKE leads the way in creating attractive, affordable housing
Mention affordable housing anywhere in the Carolinas and the WEAVERCOOKE name will typically be part of the conversation. This Greensboro, North Carolina-based company has been designing and building housing wherever it was most needed for more than 80 years. This journey began with filling a need for single-family homes at the end of the Great Depression. In the 1950s, it transitioned to providing multifamily housing for soldiers returning from World War II. Now, the company is focused on responding to the affordable housing crisis.
The business was established in 1939 by Herman Weaver as W.H. Weaver Construction, and 11 years later it was selected to build multifamily housing for soldiers at Fort Bragg near Fayetteville, North Carolina. After completing the first 1,000-unit structure, W.H. Weaver Construction was asked to build another 1,000 units. Today, those 2,000 units would equate to a $200 million project. Since that first big venture, the company—now known as WEAVERCOOKE—has worked on some commercial and municipal projects, but its backbone remains in housing.
“We continued to work on housing but were drawn to affordable housing. We have since gained a reputation as experts in attractive affordable housing in the Southeast. Although we’ve done a tremendous amount of work, there is still a massive shortage of affordable housing in this area and across the country, so there is no sign of the business slowing down,” says Chris Lee, Senior Vice President of Preconstruction at WEAVERCOOKE.
“We don’t consider ourselves a general contractor. We are a habitational contractor that builds places that people will call home, whether for a night or for a lifetime. Since our reputation has spread, we now get requests about how to build affordable housing from developers outside our area. Our tagline, ‘Building Dreams. Enriching Lives,’ fits very well with affordable housing,” says Greg Greeson, Director of Client Services at WEAVERCOOKE.
Evolving Across Eight Decades
In the mid-1990s, W.H. Weaver Construction went through a transition in leadership that led to the new company name, WEAVERCOOKE, and new ownership under Milton Kirkland. He was already the founder of Kirkland, Inc., a general contracting firm established in 1977 that works more on industrial, mixed-use and education projects. Although Milton Kirkland still owns both companies, his son Scott Kirkland manages Kirkland, Inc. as President, and Dan Estes leads WEAVERCOOKE as President and CEO.
In addition to its headquarters in Greensboro, WEAVERCOOKE has offices in Asheville, Durham and Charlotte. It does work throughout North Carolina, from Asheville to Wilmington, and from rural communities to the largest cities in the state. It is also licensed to work in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Throughout its growth and changes in the past 80+ years, two distinct qualities have remained. “One is a belief that we can do things that have not been done yet, and the other is a strong sense of caring and accountability to the people we work with. Some of our people have been with the company for 40 years,” Greeson says.
Affordable and Adaptive
Since focusing on affordable housing, WEAVERCOOKE has built 13,450 affordable units in the Carolinas. It currently is working on 517 units of new construction. Projects range from $1 million to $40 million and almost all have a habitational component.
About 70% of business is in new, affordable housing with 10 to 12 active affordable projects at any given time. The company has also worked on multiple kinds of renovation projects, including historic renovation and adaptive reuse. Adaptive reuse of historic structures repurposes buildings with historical importance to effectively serve communities in new ways. Some projects have involved turning old cotton mills into apartments; others have required the team to turn office buildings or banks into hotels, or old school buildings into affordable senior housing.
WEAVERCOOKE also performs some apartment renovation work. On these projects, the company may use its Rapid Rehab system, which works best for existing residential facilities that need only aesthetic or compliance improvement work. The method allows work to be completed without residents being relocated from their units and significantly reduces relocation costs and project timing.
Affordable housing, whether new construction or renovations, has highly specific expectations that the team at WEAVERCOOKE is uniquely familiar with. “The North Carolina Housing Finance Agency (NCHFA) provides a quality assurance plan that we have to design and build to,” Lee adds. “Requirements sometimes include market-rate features. For example, the range hood may be required to exhaust to the outside because that is a benefit for long-term maintenance. The agency wants facilities that are built to last 30 years before needing renovation, so we find many creative ways to make things look great while being cost-effective. Other things, such as flat roofs on the building, look more contemporary.”
The cost of the properties on which these projects are built depends on several factors. “To get a tax credit, nonprofit developers will look for private land, capture it and submit a full application to the NCHFA, which allocates funds and awards the work. Some requirements deal with the condition of the site but others may concern amenities, such as having grocery stores nearby,” Greeson says.
Right now the need for affordable housing is great. “In North Carolina alone, we need 190,000 new units to meet current needs because 41% of renters are housing-cost burdened. We will continue to pursue this type of work and we want trade contractors to realize the great need in this industry and that we couldn’t do it without them,” Greeson adds.
Two of WEAVERCOOKE’s prominent projects completed in 2021 are Maple Crest Apartments at Lee Walker Heights in Asheville and Willard Street Apartments in Durham. “Both of these projects were built by nonprofit, affordable housing developers who are long-term clients of our company,” Lee says. “Willard is four stories of 82 affordable units with balconies, a community room, 5,000 square feet of retail, an amenity deck that overlooks downtown, plus a two-level garage. To add to the ambiance, interesting murals were designed and placed throughout the property. The building’s design and exterior skin blend well with the downtown atmosphere, so if you walk by the Willard Street Apartments, you’d think it was a market-rate project.”
Maple Crest Apartments at Lee Walker Heights sits on a hill in Asheville and is a place Lee says residents will be proud to call home. This 212-unit, mixed-income apartment community replaces 96 units of public housing first built in 1940. Residents of the original Lee Walker Heights neighborhood were involved throughout the design and construction process, and 96 units were reserved for them at the same rent they had been paying. Maple Crest Apartments at Lee Walker Heights prioritizes access to public transportation and open community spaces, and provides all residents with high-quality units and beautiful views of the city and mountains.
Greeson says projects like these are considered to be the flagship facilities that most developers want today and are beneficial to downtown ambiance. Willard Street Apartments sits downtown next to the American Tobacco Campus and near the 10,000-seat Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home to the Durham Bulls. Lee Walker Heights overlooks the center of downtown Asheville.
WEAVERCOOKE is able to build high-quality affordable housing in part because it works primarily with negotiated contracts. “We’ve been in business a long time and want to do the right thing,” Greeson says. “Our developers are repeat clients, so we don’t have to hard-bid projects to get work. We’re fortunate enough to do it on reputation and are trustworthy enough to get it done. We don’t work for the lowest number, but to the owners’ budgets. We help developers establish budgets upfront because we have the experience. Once we have a budget, we make it work. Specifications on a project might call for items you’d see in higher-end projects, but we can design it to stay within budget. We’re blessed to be able to do that.”
"Although we’ve done a tremendous amount of work, there is still a massive shortage of affordable housing in this area and across the country, so there is no sign of the business slowing down.” Chris Lee, Senior Vice President of Preconstruction, WEAVERCOOKE
WEAVERCOOKE’s success lies in its relationships with clients, trade contractors and staff. The company encourages new ideas to support a culture of continuous improvement. “We have a strong growth mindset and encourage that in everyone we work with. We want them to look at the latest technology and ideas and integrate them into our processes. For our trades, we provide information to set them up for success, because if they aren’t successful, neither are we. We’re invested in having good partners and it’s important to share ideas for our mutual growth,” Greeson explains.
That same philosophy of continuous learning and improvement translates to listening to employees. “Everyone has a voice here and everyone is valued, which makes for a great place to be,” Greeson adds. WEAVERCOOKE empowers employees to move ahead with their ideas and gives them the tools they need to progress. We are large enough to afford the resources for innovation yet small enough to adapt quickly to a changing market.”
As a salesperson, Greeson likes to tell potential clients about the quality of WEAVERCOOKE’s preconstruction and operations teams. He also enjoys bringing clients and trades into the office or to the job site to meet the company’s staff. He considers it another way to gain trust and encourage transparency between parties.
Lee says that the company’s positive approach is a definite attraction. “One of the things about our culture is that our people are special,” he says. “We can’t lose sight of the folks in the background. They come here to be part of a team and to help us build affordable housing. The people behind the scenes don’t always get recognized. Our estimators, project administrators and accountants are a tremendous help to all of us and they really spend the time to get trade contractors what they need to be successful.”
Sharing the Benefits
The company’s concern for humanity shows in its efforts to create attractive, affordable housing, and that attitude reaches into the areas it serves. “WEAVERCOOKE is invested in the communities that we’re part of,” Greeson says. “We donate regularly to food pantries in Greensboro and hold an annual donation drive for Greensboro Urban Ministry and United Way. We have occasionally helped residents with rental assistance. Our ongoing support for two outreach programs, The Human Race and Out of the Garden Project, was initiated by employees who are interested in sharing our success. Some staff may get together on a Saturday to make a difference in the community by fundraising or donating time to Habitat for Humanity. While we support these programs every year, we are always looking for new outreach opportunities,” says Greeson.
The Human Race is a 5K, 10K or half-marathon running event that supports local nonprofits. Out of the Garden Project reclaims more than 200,000 pounds of food annually from local grocery stores and businesses in Greensboro and High Point, and redistributes it to local children and their families.
As affordable housing remains a great need, WEAVERCOOKE, its clients and teams will continue to provide housing where it is needed most and play a key role in making affordable housing attractive, comfortable and a great place to call home.