James and Patricia Rouse founded Enterprise in 1982. The organization is currently investing in communities at a rate of $1 billion a year.
Courtesy Enterprise James and Patricia Rouse founded Enterprise in 1982. The organization is currently investing in communities at a rate of $1 billion a year.

COLUMBIA, MD.—James and Patricia Rouse set a soaring goal: Make sure every American has a decent, affordable home. That was the mission of the Enterprise Foundation, the nonprofit organization the couple started in 1982 and that continues today as Enterprise Community Partners.

A legendary real estate developer, the late Jim Rouse made his living building landmark shopping malls and inventive marketplaces like Boston's Faneuil Hall. He, however, left a bigger mark as a socially conscious builder who sought to create better places to live, including housing for low-income people.

Enterprise has grown to become a leading provider of capital and technical expertise in the industry. It has helped build or preserve more than 250,000 affordable rental and for-sale homes nationwide.

The organization has raised nearly $9 billion in low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) equity, placed more than $580 million in New Markets Tax Credit allocations, loaned more than $1 billion through the Enterprise Community Loan Fund, developed more than 4,500 homes through Enterprise Homes, and invested more than $700 million in green affordable housing developments through Enterprise Green Communities, which began six years ago.

“My grandparents, Jim and Patty Rouse, founded Enterprise in their kitchen nearly 30 years ago,” says actor Edward Norton, who serves on the Enterprise board. “They started it to help address the problems that are endemic to conditions of urban poverty. As social entrepreneurs, they never stopped working.”

No obstacle too big

Enterprise grew out of the work being done at the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., in the early 1970s. A mission group wanted to address the housing crisis in the neighborhood and located two buildings that were for sale. The group turned to Rouse, a friend of the church and leader of The Rouse Co., for advice.

He warned the aspiring developers about the pitfalls involved. Still, the group went forward. Rouse was won over by the members' commitment and helped them secure the money for the deal, which led to the creation of Jubilee Housing.

Later, the Rouses formed Enterprise. The nonprofit was established even though the industry had yet to come up with the financing programs needed to do all that the Rouses wanted, says Bart Harvey, former president and CEO of Enterprise Community Partners.

That didn't deter Jim Rouse, because he was going to invent the tools. He was going to work his way through a challenge with a mix of “90 percent perspiration and 10 percent sheer genius,” says Harvey.

Early on, they decided they needed a subsidiary to raise investment capital for affordable housing and founded the Enterprise Social Investment Corp., now known as Enterprise Community Investment. The organization played a key role in creating and using the LIHTC program when it was begun in 1986.

Rouse's work ethic emerged at an early age.

While attending law school at night, Rouse, who was orphaned at 16, needed a job and convinced a garage operator to let him park cars. The only problem was Rouse didn't know how to drive. Rather than get fired, he persuaded people to teach him how to operate a car. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1995. Rouse died the following year at age 81.

Patty Rouse lives in Columbia, Md., a Baltimore suburb created by her husband. She has remained active with Enterprise, serving as the organization's conscience. Over the years, her steady refrain has been, “Are we straying from serving the poorest of the poor?”