For the people at Enterprise Community Partners (formerly known as The Enterprise Foundation), "affordable housing" is not an oxymoron. In 1985, when ENR's editors gave the late James Rouse its Man of the Year award for having founded Enterprise, Rouse had a grand plan to eradicate poverty in America in 25 years. His jumping off point—provide decent, affordable housing to families of four with annual incomes of $9,000 or less.
Clearly, Rouse's overarching goal was too ambitious. But his foundation has at least made a big dent in providing housing for the poorest of America's poor. In 1985, Enterprise had helped produce 1,240 units of housing for the underserved. Today, that number is nearly 300,000. In addition, Enterprise, 30 years old, has raised and invested more than $11.5 billion in equity, grants and loans for housing production.
Though Rouse died in 1996 and his co-founder of Enterprise, his wife Patty, died this past March, the organization they created is thriving. Judging from a three-day "leaders institute" for affordable housing development held this week in New York City, it is clear that Enterprise and has attained sophistication in all areas of housing and community development—design, finance and more. The group even has a LEED-style initiative for affordable housing certification, called Enterprise Green Communities.
But though the organization is clearly established and its staff, savvy, it is clear that Enterprise has not lost its purpose. It is more than ever devoted to the mission of its founders.
Listening to its community development partners from around the U.S. present their projects to designers for suggestions, and listening to the guidance offered, is both inspiring and discouraging. Inspiring because it is wonderful to see people so dedicated to helping those who are unable to help themselves. Discouraging because each project is rife with so many challenges. Many appear insurmountable.
But somehow, thanks to dedication that verges on devotion to the cause, most of the projects get built. It is impressive!
As one Enterprise veteran says: "There have been incredible strides but more needs to be done. If we have learned anything, it is that we have to begin to rebuild not only neighborhoods but people's lives."
I was lucky enough to be the reporter who wrote the Rouse story. At first, he declined the award, saying he didn't deserve it, rather the people of Enterprise did. He was told that he could not decline the award. It was his, whether or not he accepted it. Eventually, he cooperated and came to the Man of the Year dinner—but only because ENR included the Enterprise Foundation name, along with his, on the plaque.
Rouse, who was a favorite of the media, was well-protected from most of the press by his "palace guards." He would only give me 40 minutes of his time for both the interview and the photo shoot for the cover story (ENR 2/14/85 p. 52). I took it. I had no choice.
But then, when in his office in Columbia, Md., I begged his secretary to ask him if I could take him and Patty to dinner. They agreed. I don't know exactly why.
The dinner stretched out for several days...so to speak. After we ate, Jim took me on a tour of Baltimore. Patty invited me to tea the next day at the Rouse home in Columbia—a modest ranch house. Jim showed up, though he wasn't invited. Tea turned into a several-hour interview, which ended with Jim throwing open his briefcase, filled with all kinds of tidbits this reporter wanted to read, and said: "You are welcome to see all my papers."
I have been working for ENR on and off for more than 33 years. I have interviewed many great people. But James Rouse tops the list (along with Patty).
It was one of those assignments that made me think: "They pay me to do this?"
Happy 30th birthday, Enterprise.