For J. Scott Watt, his sister Sally Oxley and his daughter Nadine Watt, building homes has been their family’s business since 1947. To understand their devotion to resolving the homelessness crisis, simply look to the man who founded that business – Scott Watt and Oxley’s late father, Raymond Watt.

“My father was always philanthropic,” Scott Watt said. “It was his philosophy to give back.”

“He was a very caring and giving person,” Oxley recalled. “My father would bring stray people home for dinner and my mother would say, ‘we don’t have enough food,’ and he’d say, ‘find enough.’”

Raymond Watt started his construction company to provide housing for veterans returning from World War II. “He just wanted to house people from the very beginning,” Nadine Watt said. “Whether it was people who could afford it or people who could not, he wanted a roof over everyone’s head.”

As children, Scott Watt and Oxley remember going with him to construction sites every weekend, watching him turn homeownership dreams into reality. In the mid-1950s, Watt Companies became one of the first to provide low-cost housing in greater Los Angeles, building sub-divisions in Compton, South Bay and the downtown area, neighborhoods where most homebuilders did not go.

“Congresswoman Maxine Waters still talks about my grandfather and the houses he built,” Nadine Watt said. “She’ll say, ‘I want to take you on a tour of my district and show you all the Ray Watt homes – what he did for my constituents and my people.’”

“He was tireless, always thinking about where to house and shelter people,” Scott Watt said. “It was obviously an influence on all of us.”

Supporting Trojan efforts

The Watt family’s support for USC also began with Raymond Watt, who served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1968 until his death in 2009. Scott Watt and Oxley both received their undergraduate degrees from USC, and Nadine Watt became a member of the Trojan Family by attending graduate school. When Scott Watt was asked to join the USC School of Social Work’s Board of Councilors in 2006, it was an opportunity to marry his dedication to USC with his passion for finding solutions for homelessness.

“At the time, the school didn’t really have a discipline in homelessness,” Scott Watt said. “I was also on the board for the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row, and Dean Marilyn Flynn started thinking that the school should be doing more on the issue of homelessness. So, we funded some of the initial research on this.”

The family has continued its advocacy for strategies to end homelessness, including the creation of the Watt Family Innovation Fund for Urban Social Development, a research laboratory model to encourage the exploration of solutions to housing affordability and access in Los Angeles, which can also inform solutions in other urban areas. Scott Watt and his wife, Obaida Watt, also funded a forum on homelessness at the school, bringing together participants from Los Angeles city and county agencies, private service organizations and academia to address integrated care and supportive housing.

“There are some exciting things happening through education at the USC School of Social Work,” Scott Watt said. “There is theory and application, and the research goes out in front of the application.”

“If you don’t study it, you don’t know that these people need other resources,” Nadine Watt said. “They need jobs, they have mental health issues, other things besides just being fed. If you study everything that leads up to homelessness, you’re going to get to the root of the problem rather than just putting a bandage on it.”

Leading the way

In 2015, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW) declared 12 “Grand Challenges” to be addressed by the field of social work in the United States over the next 10 years. The AASWSW has asked the USC School of Social Work, led by Suzanne Wenzel, the Richard M. and Ann L. Thor Professor in Urban Social Development, and Assistant Professor Benjamin Henwood, to assume national leadership for the grand challenge to end homelessness. Without hesitation, the Watt family stepped up to provide the seed funding to launch this effort.

“These Grand Challenges are things I have always been thinking about, and social work takes it another step,” Scott Watt said. “I also think advances in technologies, in the sense of medicine and genetics that will cure people of their ills, will have a huge impact on ending homelessness. There is often opposition to funding this issue because of a perception that homeless people are not trying. We have to educate the public about what is going on out there.”

“It bothers me that so many people will fund efforts to help the homeless outside of the United States, and we have homeless needs right here,” Oxley said.

During the course of a year, nearly 1.5 million Americans will experience homelessness for at least one night. In Los Angeles County alone, more than 44,000 people call the streets their home, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Homelessness is an issue with many layers and many prejudices. It was a problem that Raymond Watt confronted in his own way, and his children and grandchildren have committed themselves to be a part of the solution.

“I feel very fortunate to have a grandfather that instilled these values, and I learned them from my father and my aunt,” Nadine Watt said. “I’m now teaching this to my children so that they will continue the legacy of philanthropy in the Watt family.”

Watt Communities of Arizona today announced that it has reached 100 percent sold out at Dorsey Lane, the residential townhome community near downtown Tempe that marked the company’s entrance into Arizona’s upscale urban infill housing market. Today, Watt’s presence has expanded into a $73 million project pipeline, with six properties either under construction or now selling in submarkets across metro Phoenix.

“It has been a very busy few years,” said Steve Pritulsky, President and CEO of Watt Communities of Arizona. “We broke ground on Dorsey Lane in late Spring of 2015 and began home sales last April. Since then, we’ve averaged one unit sold per week to a broad buyer mix. That was a great sales pace and makes us feel very optimistic about the additional projects in our Phoenix-area pipeline.”

Dorsey Lane totals 51 contemporary, three-story urban townhomes located just south of the southwest corner of Broadway Road and Dorsey Lane in central Tempe. Townhomes at Dorsey Lane range from 1,400 to 1,800 square feet. Each is designed with a private two-car garage and includes a gated entry, pool/ramada/ sundeck, outdoor poolside kitchen and landscaped paseos.

With its location minutes from Arizona State University, the Mill Avenue/Tempe Town Lake employment corridor and the Loop 101, 202 and US 60 Superstition freeways, Dorsey Lane has attracted a range of buyers. “We have a huge range of residents living here. Everyone from students and young professionals to our buyers who have downsized for a lock-and-leave lifestyle,” said Pritulsky. “It is a fabulously diverse community.”

“Our goal has always been to provide upscale living with the amenities of an urban lifestyle, but at a more affordable price point,” said Paul Timm, Chief Operations Officer for Watt Communities of Arizona. “Our success at Dorsey Lane proves this is possible – that there is a strong and broad demand for the type of homes and living environments we’re building.”

Pricing at Dorsey Lane began in the high $200,000s. Watt is also now actively selling units at Biltmore Living, a community of 40 urban townhomes mirroring the layout and amenities of Dorsey Lane, but located in the sought-after Camelback Corridor, less than one mile south of 24th Street and Camelback Road. Pricing at Biltmore Living starts in the low $300,000s.

Other active Watt Communities projects include:

  • 32 North, a community of 31 two-story, single family detached patio homes now under construction near 32nd Street and Cactus Road in North Phoenix, set to deliver in early Summer.
  • 16 Ocotillo, an upscale, single-family detached patio home project that broker ground in December at 16th Street and Ocotillo (just south of Glendale Avenue), in the 51 Corridor between North Central Phoenix and the Biltmore area.
  • 8th & Row, a 35-unit townhome community that broke ground this spring in downtown Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row District.
  • View 32, an upscale, for-rent apartment community near 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard – and North 32nd Street Corridor’s first new urban apartment project in decades – set to break ground in the late first quarter.