Dodger ball girl at baseball game

Sally Oxley, Nadine Watt and Scott Watt in the Santa Monica office of Watt Companies (Photo/Tracy Boulian and David Ahntholz)

Social Impact

A family devotes itself to helping the homeless

A brother and sister carry on the legacy of their late father, who turned homeownership dreams into reality

August 10, 2016 Joanna Scott

For J. Scott Watt, sister Sally Oxley and daughter Nadine Watt, building homes has been the 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 subdivisions 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 couple 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.”

Adds Nadine Watt: “If you don’t study it, you don’t know that these people need other resources. 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.”