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2010 multimillion-dollar lottery winner's apartment complex donation to help families in crisis

April 20, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • Randy Smith, left, signs over apartments to Jan Callen, outgoing president and chief executive officer of the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, on Friday.
By Richard F. Belisle

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Randy Smith, Berkeley County’s multimillion-dollar lottery winner turned philanthropist, listened Friday to how his donation of an apartment complex is turning into a sustainable community housing program for families in crisis.

Smith, 65, a former Berkeley County sheriff and magistrate, won a $79 million Powerball lottery in August 2010. The total dropped to $44 million after taxes when he opted for a lump-sum payment.

Since then, Smith has been giving away millions to charities, area fire, police and emergency service agencies, local causes and individuals.

In December, 2010, the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle benefited from Smith’s largesse when he donated his 24-unit Mega-Apartment Complex in the 4000 block of Winchester Avenue.

A year later he donated the family home in which he grew up to honor of his parents, Edwin W. and Bertha D. Smith, and his late sister, Beverly Diane Smith, who lived in the residence until her death in 2011.

He said during a news conference Friday at the United Way headquarters on 218 W. King St. that he became aware of the shortage of emergency housing for families during his 12 years as a deputy sheriff and eight years as sheriff.

While praising the efforts of emergency shelters like Bethany House and the Union Rescue Mission, facilities for women and men, respectively, both had residency requirements that forced families to be split up.

Illness, loss of employment, fires and other misfortunes caused families to lose their homes. He said he wanted to provide a facility “that would keep families together at the worst of times.”

Jan Callen, outgoing president and chief executive officer of the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, said Smith’s donation of the property — valued at $1 million, plus $100,000 in cash — made it “more than a donation; it made it a mission.”

Callen said often when a charity is given real estate “it becomes an albatross around their necks.”

The United Way’s board of directors agreed to use the donation for a pilot project that would eventually meet Smith’s intention of creating an ongoing emergency housing program for families in crisis and keep them in stable housing until their conditions improve.

A committee was formed, a consultant hired and the United Way partnered with the Community Networks, Inc., a local agency with a track record of helping homeless families.

It was new territory for a United Way organization, Callen said.

“Panhandle housing advocates have sought a sustainable solution, and the donation of this property provides the resources to develop one,” he said.

Phenix Group LLC, a local property management company, was hired to manage the 24 rental units in the apartment complex.

The facility includes an emergency shelter apartment, nine, one-bedroom and 11, two-bedroom apartments, and the four-unit apartment house. Twenty units are currently occupied. Tenants pay rents that are $200 below market rates.

Rental income is projected to net the United Way’s housing program more than $30,000 a year after expenses.

“The message here is that housing underpins everything that the United Way is doing,” Callen said.

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