Building off our momentum from 2017, the Center for Senior Services (CSS) team hit the ground running last year. We are pleased to report that CSS established new connections on Capitol Hill and at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In addition, we enjoyed learning from each other at the Managers and Service Coordinators and B’nai B’rith Housing Conferences.
Last spring brought welcome news for the Section 202 capital advance funds, because the federal budget allocated $105 million towards the program. This was the first time since 2011 that meaningful money was appropriated to build new properties for low-income seniors. For years, B’nai B’rith has felt the Section 202 capital advance funds had been woefully neglected, and we believe this is an important first step towards creating badly needed additional affordable housing for seniors.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all good news this year for the Section 202 program. HUD released proposed legislation that called for an increase in Section 202 residents’ monthly rental contributions. B’nai B’rith spoke out against these damaging reforms and took our message directly to Congress. Fortunately, there was little appetite on Capitol Hill to raise rents on low-income seniors, and HUD’s rental reforms were not enacted into law.
As always, our visits to Capitol Hill were in conjunction with the American Association of Service Coordinators, an organization that naturally fits with B’nai B’rith’s housing mantra of “aging in place.”
In addition, meetings with lawmakers’ offices always included an open invitation to visit our beautiful B’nai B’rith-sponsored properties. Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois), Gene Green (D-Texas), Ted Deutch (D-Florida) and Donald Payne (D-New Jersey) all enjoyed their time touring Section 202 buildings and speaking with their constituents about seniors’ issues. Always looking to build on our successes, we expanded our congressional outreach this year to include candidates running for Congress. Republican congressional candidate Marty Nothstein and Democratic congressional candidate Susan Wild toured B’nai B’rith Apartments in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to meet with residents and discuss the critical importance of housing for adults with limited means. This opportunity allowed whichever candidate won the race to take back to Congress the conversations they had with residents about how critical affordable housing, income security and healthcare matters are for seniors.
Our work certainly did not stop on Capitol Hill. The B’nai B’rith Housing Conference and the Managers and Service Coordinators meetings were both fantastic. The B’nai B’rith housing community was able to directly hear from HUD, B’nai B’rith staff and other experts who work with seniors. Topics included elder fraud prevention from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; working with Adult Protective Services (APS); avoiding staff burnout; dealing with difficult residents and residents’ mental health issues; fire safety for seniors; resident empowerment; program models to help residents access nutritious food; HUD updates; eliminating barriers to housing access and providing support for formerly homeless residents; fair housing; and congressional updates. It’s always fun learning about our buildings’ success stories and seeing what works throughout our community.
CSS staff work travel certainly did not stop at the B’nai B’rith conferences. In May Janel Doughten, associate director, Center for Senior Services, and Evan Carmen, assistant director for aging policy, were hosted by the Jewish Community Housing Corporation (JCHC) management company at the South Orange B'nai B'rith Federation House in New Jersey. The two put on a fair housing training for residents as well as a session entitled “How to Be Your Own Best Advocate.”
Janel and Breana Clark, senior program associate, attended the 2018 National Service Coordinator Conference in August. The conference was hosted by the American Association of Service Coordinators in Austin, Texas. The following month, Janel presented at the SPM Property Management 2018 Managers Workshop in Sandestin, Florida. The presentation focused on how to de-escalate tense situations with a resident, how to recognize and deal with adult bullying in senior housing and how to become more empathetic towards residents.
The B’nai B’rith 2018 Annual Leadership Forum took place in New York from Oct. 14-16. As a part of the agenda, Evan and Breana sat on a staff panel devoted to domestic policy issues. The two highlighted the HUD Section 202 program and other federal programs that seniors in the B’nai B’rith network rely on, such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Social Security.
Most recently, Janel visited Mollie & Max Barnett Apartments & Tarrant County B’nai B’rith Apartments in Fort Worth, Texas, to put on programming for residents regarding adult bullying, empathy and compassion.
Saving the best for last, Mark Olshan, associate executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, was instrumental in the recapitalization of the Adelstein Family-Project H.O.P.E B’nai B’rith House in the Bronx, New York. This project will allow residents to see a completely renovated building when the construction is finished. Upgrades include new bathrooms, kitchens, appliances, lighting and paint. Exterior and common area renovations will include new masonry, replacement of exterior doors, new elevators, safety windows, plumbing infrastructure, boilers and pumps. It will also see the addition of smoke detectors and sprinklers and electrical and security upgrades. All of this will allow the building to be preserved for the next generation.
In addition, the management team plans to provide the financial resources for supportive and social services for the residents. Through partnerships with local organizations, for the first time, residents will have access to community resources, supportive listening and casework services and a host of new classes, workshops, events and regular activities.
Lastly, in 2018, the CSS team was excited to start an educational webinar service that trained the B’nai B’rith community on affordable housing. We did webinars entitled “Senior Housing 202” and “Fair Housing and Diversity Awareness.” These webinars provided important information on the background of B’nai B’rith’s relationship with the Section 202 program, and how we can make our housing community more inclusive and welcoming.
As we begin 2019, this year is shaping up to be even better. We have our conferences tentatively scheduled for Fort Worth, Texas and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and we are already planning for the Resident Leadership retreat over the summer, which is always a blast! Lastly, rest assured that our advocacy on Capitol Hill will continue in earnest, as we hope to report additional congressional visits to our sponsored buildings throughout the year.
Mark D. Olshan, Ph.D. began his career with B’nai B’rith in 1983 when he was hired as its Director of Senior Housing. He currently serves as Director of the Center for Senior Services and Associate Executive Vice President of B’nai B’rith International. He was awarded the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award in 2000. To view some of his additional content, click here.
Janel Doughten is the associate director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services, focusing on the subsidized senior housing program. She has been with B’nai B’rith for 23 years, and looks forward to leading the 15th Resident Leadership Retreat later this year. To view some of her additional content, click here.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Assistant Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
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