B’nai B’rith’s Director of Aging Policy Rachel Goldberg and Associate Director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services Janel Doughten, along with Alayna Waldrum of Leading Age, were part of the tour and discussion, explaining what Section 202 housing is, why it is so important and why it is imperative that Congress restore funding to this essential program in the federal budget.
The purpose of the tour was to put a face on why the Section 202 buildings for moderate-to-low-income seniors are so important, and why funding to build more of these homes across the United States should be restored to the federal budget and made a priority. The Congressional delegations often hear statistics and pleas to restore the funding, but until they see the buildings, what they provide, and meet the residents, it is easier to dismiss. By giving these staffers a direct look, and an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the program, B’nai B’rith hopes the staffers came away with a greater urgency to address this issue.
The first building toured was St. Mary’s Court in downtown Washington, D.C., where Doughton serves as the vice president of the building’s board of directors. The group met with residents, the manager and the service coordinator of the building. St. Mary’s Manager Margaret Pully gave an overview of the building, including demographics of the residents, meal program and the issues with the long waitlist to live in the building. The service coordinator, Ceila Wolter, talked about her wide range of interactions with the residents, from helping a hoarder de-clutter an apartment to making sure someone with a chronic medical issue or someone recently returned from the hospital has the necessary medical care.
The second property congressional staffers toured was the Samuel J. Simmons NCBA Estates (National Caucus and Center on Black Aged). On the bus ride from St. Mary’s Court to NCBA Estates, staffers had a chance to ask Leading Age staff and Doughten questions on the particulars of these buildings and the program, such as why are waitlists closed? How are service coordinators funded?
Waldrum explained that waitlists in many buildings are closed because there is such a demand for this housing that the lists just got too long. Once it is determined there is more than a two year wait for an apartment, most buildings close the list. They do not want to give false hope to people hoping to move into a building, when the list length means it most likely will not happen.
Answering the question of how to fund a service coordinator, Waldrum and Doughten informed Congressional staffers that the position was often funded through a HUD grant, but when the federal budget cut the funding to build 202 projects, the money for service coordinators was also mostly eliminated. Some buildings are able to get the costs of a service coordinator built into their operating budget, but not all buildings are able to do that. The members of a building’s board of directors are the volunteer fundraisers for that complex, and they also work with staff to prepare grant applications and other means of funding.
Although a wonderful building with creative staff, NCBA Estates is an example of what happens when money is cut from Section 202 housing. The wait list has been closed for two years and there is no service coordinator.
B’nai B’rith International is the largest national Jewish sponsor of low-income senior housing in the United States, with 42 buildings in 26 communities, encompassing more than 4,000 apartment units and serving more than 8,000 people. Operating the Senior Housing Network since 1968, B'nai B'rith complexes are open to all qualified individuals as defined by HUD, without regard to race, color, religion, sex, handicap or national origin. The B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network is just a small slice of the almost 400,000 seniors in more than 8,000 buildings throughout the country served by Section 202.