David K. Hill, founder of Kimball Hill Homes in Rolling Meadows, Ill., died Saturday at the age of 67. He had cancer.

Educated as a lawyer, Hill founded Kimball Hill Homes in 1969, naming the firm after his father, who had also been a builder. Under David Hill’s leadership, Kimball Hill Homes grew to become one of the largest builders in the country, closing 3,246 homes in 2007, according to the BUILDER 100. Like many firms, it has been battered by the housing crisis and is currently reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

But Hill was known for more in the housing industry than just the company he founded. He was also a dedicated advocate for affordable housing, both on a local and national level.

In 1990, he founded the North West Housing Partnership in Schaumburg, Ill., which develops affordable multifamily housing, helps first-time home buyers, and repairs single-family homes owned by low-income residents in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. Last year, the nonprofit opened its largest community ever: Victory Centre of Bartlett, a senior housing campus with 104 independent living units and 104 supportive housing units. “Without [David Hill], it would not have happened,” said Holly Fraccaro, North West Housing Partnership’s executive director. “He was the reason that development came to fruition.”

Nationally, Hill helped establish the Center for Housing Policy, the research affiliate to the National Housing Conference. "David was always ahead of the curve," said Conrad Egan, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference. "He was a strong and successful builder, but he was also interested in creative, innovative solutions that would provide more affordable and workforce housing. ... We all respected him so much."

As a result of these efforts and others, Hill received the Hearthstone BUILDER Lifetime Public Service Award in 2004. But his work and reputation reached far beyond organizational or corporate boundaries. “David was very special,” Nicolas Retsinas, director of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, told BUILDER today. “He had a passion for home building, for affordable housing and, mostly, for life. David leaves behind the footprints of someone who made a difference in the industry, in communities, and in his engaged and eclectic life. We will miss his intellect, his energy, and his passion.”

Many others agree, from family friends to Kimball Hill Homes employees, who have been filling the pages of a Chicago Tribune online guest book dedicated to Hill with heartfelt comments. “The best thing about Mr. Hill is his unflagging belief in others: that they were as committed as he; as whip-smart as he; as well-meaning as he. That's a kind of optimism that is tough to keep up and even harder to build a life around, but he was a tremendous success in doing so,” wrote one visitor. “We're going to miss him.”

Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.

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