November 10, 2011; Source: Enterprise Community Partners | Those who had the good fortune to have worked with the late Jim Rouse had the benefit of experiencing one of the most authentic philanthropists and social activists of the late 20th century. The developer of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, New York City’s South Street Seaport, the new city of Columbia, Maryland, a philanthropist and social activist? Yes, and a faith-based one—founder of the Enterprise Foundation, now Enterprise Community Partners, one of the nation’s two national nonprofit community development intermediaries.

But, as with Habitat for Humanity, with its programs in dozens of U.S. cities and its investment of over $11.3 billion generating over 280,000 affordable homes since 1982, it is easy to overlook Enterprise’s faith-based roots: Rouse’s vision for Enterprise began with his involvement with the Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC, and its affordable housing programs that eventually became Jubilee Housing.

Today, Rouse’s philanthropic institution, Enterprise Community Partners, is a conglomerate of high-finance operations, including affordable housing financing through the Enterprise Community Loan Fund, low income housing tax credits through Enterprise Community Investment, and housing development through Enterprise Homes. But it maintains its commitment to faith-based institutions. Since 2006, Enterprise has worked with the East of the River Clergy-Police-Community Partnership, Wesley Theological Seminary, and Georgetown University in the “Faith-Based Development Initiative” in Washington, DC, providing financing and technical assistance to houses of worship with surplus land or buildings that could be used for affordable housing.

Working with churches on housing development isn’t just a matter of faith. It’s economics and opportunity. According to Enterprise’s new report on the FBDI Let Us Rise Up and Build, “across the entire District of Columbia, 747 houses of worship own nearly 30 million square feet of property on more than 2,000 lots of land assessed at close to $3 billion.” The FBDI has worked with 32 churches to date with 1,000 affordable housing units underway and 228 units completed. Enterprise has made $145,000 in grants, $1.5 million in affordable housing loans, and $13.8 million in low-income housing tax credit investments.

The FBDI seems to be an example of a faith-based initiative of substance and accomplishment. It would make Jim Rouse proud. –Rick Cohen