Brand Talk: Why we can’t ignore the affordable housing crisis

Gary E Robinette

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Home for Good by Ply Gem Building Products

Gary E Robinette

A Q&A with Gary E. Robinette

Gary E. Robinette is chairman and CEO of Ply Gem Building Products, a leading North American manufacturer of exterior building products based in Cary, N.C., and a 39 year veteran of the building industry. He is an active member on the Xavier University Board of Trustees and the Policy Advisory Board of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. In 2016, Gary and the Ply Gem team created the Home for Good project, a corporate social responsibility initiative developed to create awareness of the need for more affordable housing.

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Q: Affordable housing has become a nationwide crisis. How big is the problem?
A: It’s a significant problem. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, millions of Americans across the country cannot afford their homes or rental units. About 12 million homeowner or renter households spend more than half of their annual income on housing, meaning they have very limited funds for other basic needs like food and clothing. Even in our own backyard in Wake County, North Carolina, there is an urgent need for over 50,000 low income housing units, and that number is expected to triple by 2035 if something drastic isn’t done. Part of the problem is that the inventory of starter homes is tight. Builders — struggling with high land prices, labor shortages and tight local regulations — have been forced to build more homes at the higher end of the market to cover increased costs. Affordable housing is almost completely out of reach for typical first-time buyers, which concerns me as an industry leader and is why Ply Gem is at the forefront of solving this national crisis with the Home for Good project.

Q: What motivated Ply Gem to launch the Home for Good project and what impact has it had so far?
A: We believe companies have an obligation to support the communities and people they rely on every day to grow their business. Through the Home for Good project, we’ve taken our 75 years of experience and dedication to creating quality products that make beautiful homes and turned it into our mission. This project has allowed Ply Gem to take the products we make, the building community relationships we have, and our national footprint to help build homes and peace of mind with families who are working hard to achieve the dream of homeownership. Since 2016, we’ve donated more than $1.8 million in products to Habitat for Humanity, helped to build more than 450 homes in over 70 communities and worked diligently to raise awareness of the need for more affordable housing.

Q: What else can be done?
A: Businesses need to accelerate their pace of innovation to find ways to make building more affordable. Ply Gem is doing so by investing in advanced material solutions to drive down the cost of housing materials. One example is Ply Gem’s extensive portfolio of vinyl siding, which is designed for easy installation — meaning less labor — decreasing the amount of time and money it takes to complete a home. However, we need the support of our customers and home-building community at large to adequately leverage the advantages of our product solutions. I encourage distributors, lumberyards, builders and contractors to join Ply Gem in addressing the affordable housing crisis by participating in the Home for Good project community builds and helping us spread the word. Participants can find a build location in their area by visiting We also encourage our customers to contact their Ply Gem sales representative to discuss a customized Home for Good project program specific to their community.

Q: Provide our readers with a glimpse of what The Home for Good project is setting out to accomplish this year.
A: In 2018, we are expanding this effort to more directly impact local communities. We are continuing our partnership with national campaign ambassador, Grammy award winner, Darius Rucker, and have also partnered with country music artists Brett Young and Lauren Alaina as regional ambassadors to draw more attention to our mission. Our ambassadors share our concern for the affordable housing crisis and are able to connect homeowners and building professionals through country music. Overall, I am optimistic we can help solve the affordable housing crisis as an industry and I anticipate many successful builds in the months ahead.

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