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As of November 28, 2022, Wynne Watts Commons is fully occupied. As we celebrate this milestone, we want to share the personal story Riad Sahli of Enterprise Community Partners presented during Kerr’s September Grand Opening event. 

I’m Riad Sahli with Enterprise Community Partners. We are the investment partner in Wynne Watts Commons, with $19 million of equity committed to the project. Although Enterprise is the investor, we’re a little different than most in that we’re a nonprofit mission-based organization working in all 50 states and on Capitol Hill as a champion of affordable housing. Enterprises’ vision is that ours is “a country where home and community are stepping-stones to more.” And our mission is “to make home and community places of pride, power, and belonging and platforms for resilience and upward mobility for all.”

I will return to these themes of stepping stones and upward mobility, but first, a short story. It’s about my grandma, Lila, and why this project is so meaningful to me.

Lila (she never wanted me to call her grandma) passed away unexpectedly five years ago, but until then, she was actively involved with Albertina Kerr. She volunteered for the organization for nearly 20 years – mostly organizing fundraising fashion shows and luncheons at the thrift shop and modeling in the fashion shows. She was one of the warmest and most charming people you’d meet. One of her favorite phrases was “tickled pink,” which she used to describe her enthusiasm for fashion shows, among other things.

But Lila’s life wasn’t easy. She was twice divorced and struggled at times with finances and life. Like many Americans, she had no savings. In the early 2000s, in her 70s, she and her husband David worked part-time jobs to supplement their social security and barely scraped by. The high rent on their modest 1-bedroom apartment left them with nothing left after paying for food and gas. They were fortunate enough to connect with a nonprofit housing provider that moved them into a comparable apartment for less than half the rent. And for her last 15 years, she was lucky enough to have high-quality, safe, affordable housing. It was a game-changer for my grandma. It enabled her to stop working, spend more time with her family, and volunteer at Albertina Kerr. And it gave her the luxury of taking a few vacations and buying herself some nice clothes now and then.

Lila didn’t get the benefit of affordable housing until later in life, but for young families, it can pave the way for upward mobility. If a family of four goes from paying $2,500 to $1,200 a month for a 2-bedroom apartment, that’s $1,300 extra cash each month – or nearly $16,000 a year! You can see how two or three years in affordable housing can provide a stepping-stone for a family to make a down payment on a house or send a child to college. And along the way to those big life goals, it can provide a little more breathing room for families to invest in computers, musical instruments, and sports equipment for their kids. To do something a little nicer for the holidays. And to not stress so much about losing a job or the next rent increase. That’s what Wynne Watts Commons will provide to the working families and people with disabilities that find their homes here. Upward mobility. A stepping-stone to more.

The housing credit program was created by Congress in 1986 and has financed the development of 3.6 million affordable homes, making it the country’s biggest driver of affordable housing production. Enterprise has been a leader in the field, both in the volume of communities we’ve participated in as an investor, but more importantly, how we’ve reinvested our profits back into the field through policy work, advocacy, capacity-building for community development organizations – such as providing technical assistance, grants, and predevelopment capital for affordable housing.

Enterprise is proud of our partnership with Albertina Kerr in Wynne Watts Commons, and I am personally grateful for the chance to be involved. I know Lila would be “tickled pink.”

This project has been made possible by the generosity of private donors and foundations, Albertina Kerr’s land donation, the City of Gresham’s Metro Affordable Housing Bond funds, and customers participating in PGE’s Green Future SM program through the PGE Renewable Development Fund.