Peter Melia Kimm, whose innovative work on affordable housing in the developing world continues to have an impact, died peacefully at home in Potomac, Md. on Saturday, March 30. He was 89. He began his 30 year career guiding the U.S. Agency for International Development Office of Housing and Urban Development in 1966. His relentless pursuit of mission revolutionized the construction of sustainable housing for poor urban families in the developing world.
Peter Kimm was born in Brooklyn, NY on Dec. 15, 1929. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean war, 1951-1953, rising to the rank of Master Sergeant. He led a combat construction platoon, receiving multiple awards. He married Grace Anderson in 1954, and they settled in their native Brooklyn. Peter began a rigorous course of study at The Cooper Union in New York City at night while working construction during the day. He received his Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree in 1958, and became a Licensed Professional Engineer. He then supervised construction of buildings, roads and highway bridges.
In response to President John F. Kennedy’s call to “ask what you can do for your country,” he and his brother launched their families (including four children under seven) on an odyssey of public service — first with a Peace Corps-type organization in Paterson, NJ and then to Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he learned Spanish. The Kimms engaged with Ivan Illich, Margaret Mead, Philip and Daniel Berrigan, and others working with a volunteer organization in the U.S. and Mexico. 1963-65, Kimm worked in Washington, DC for the American Institute for Free Labor Development, AIFLD, supporting Trade Union worker housing in Latin America.
Kimm joined USAID in 1966. After leading the USAID Housing Guaranty Program, Peter went on to be Director for the USAID Environmental Center (1993-97) and Director of the USAID US-Asia Environmental Partnership (1998-2002). After retiring from USAID in 2002, he founded the International Housing Coalition, and served on its board into 2019. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan recognized Peter with the Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive Award, the most prestigious recognition that can be given to a member of the U.S. Senior Executive Service. He was the first from USAID to receive the award. In June 1996, at the U.N. Habitat II Conference in Istanbul, Assistant Secretary General Wally N’Dow praised Kimm for contributing “more over the past 30 years towards the housing needs of poor people than anyone else in the world.” In October 1996 at United Nations Headquarters in New York, Peter Kimm received the HABITAT Scroll of Honor Award, for 30 years of “outstanding service assisting developing nations worldwide respond to housing needs of low-income families and to meet the challenges of rapid urbanization,” recognizing his work in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Peter Kimm received The Cooper Union Gano Dunn Award in 1985 for outstanding public service, and the President’s Citation in 1998 for contributions to his profession. He was one of the 150 alumni chosen for the Hall of Fame at the 150th anniversary of the Cooper Union in 2009.
Peter Kimm was devoted to his grandchildren, especially after the death of his oldest son Peter Jr. in a car accident in 1995. He attended sports practices and games of children and grandchildren. Peter and Grace Kimm’s children and grandchildren all live nearby. Holidays and the many birthdays bring the family together often. A lifelong athlete he enjoyed basketball, tennis and cycling, forming close friendships with those he played with. He was part of a group of retired friends that bicycled weekly together for more than a decade, engaging in lively political conversation during breaks. This later evolved into a “New Yorker” reading group, meeting monthly.
Peter Kimm is survived by his wife of 65 years, Grace Kimm; his son Christopher Kimm of Reston, SVP Americas Operations of Equinix; daughter Mary Kimm of Potomac, Publisher of Connection Newspapers; daughter-in-law Virginia Fowler of Potomac; brother, Victor Kimm of McLean; and their families, including 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.