What’s Behind the Leon Levine Foundation’s Support for Affordable Housing in North Carolina?

In our recent coverage of the Southeast, we asked whether Dollar General’s was putting its philanthropic in the right places based on current needs. But this isn’t the only dollar-store-inspired foundation that’s been making waves in this region of the country lately.

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Leon Levine was the founder of Family Dollar, and he just committed to an affordable housing project in North Carolina. The Leon Levine Foundation just gave $500,000 to help revitalize the Renaissance Master Plan, formerly known as the Boulevard Homes public housing project, which is located in a neighborhood that’s recovering from a crime rate that was once five times the city average in Charlotte.

This $500,000 is going toward building the Renaissance West Community Initiative's $15 million child development center at this housing project site. And this center is part of a much larger $90 million revitalization plan for the former housing site spanning 41 acres. The previous housing complex was bulldozed and will soon be replaced with 334 mixed-income housing units with a community center, pre-K to grade 8 school, and this child development center.

But this isn’t the first time that the Levine family has shown interest in this particular housing project and child development facility. In fact, Leon’s son, Howard Levine, who’s now the CEO of Family Dollar, gave $1 million to this project at the beginning of 2016. Given the strategic timing and scale of the gift, the facility will be named the Howard Levine Child Development Center when complete. Other funders supporting this local effort include the C.D. Spangler Foundation, Jerry and Rosalind Richardson, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Foundation, among others.

The Leon Levine Foundation’s executive director, Tom Lawrence, said that the foundation decided to support this project because it promises to address the cycle of poverty in one of Charlotte’s most troubled neighborhoods. This foundation’s geographic focus is Charlotte, North Carolina and the surrounding areas, and it considers providing pretty much every kind of support you can think of. Leon Levine grew up in Rockingham, North Carolina, but he opened his first Family Dollar store in Charlotte in 1959.

Related:He Made Big Bucks Selling to the Poor. Now He's Giving Some of It to Help Them

Affordable housing isn’t one of this funder’s key issue areas, but human services is, especially in terms of self-sufficiency. Along with the affordable housing effort, the Levine Foundation also funds programs that help local residents earn a living wage and access earned benefits, such as veterans’ aid and social security disability. Children, the elderly, and veterans are a big part of Levine’s self-sufficiency grantmaking. Other housing support has gone to Charlotte Family Housing, which is a shelter-to-housing empowerment program for homeless families.

The child development center that the Levines have funded is scheduled to open its doors to kids up to age 5 in mid-2017 and will be managed by the YMCA of Greater Charlotte.