What a difference a month makes. A month ago, my colleagues and I were going up to Capitol Hill to talk with congressional offices about the fiscal year 2021 budget. It was that time of the year again, when organizations like B’nai B’rith advocate to Congress about funding for affordable housing for the upcoming fiscal year. As always, these types of meetings were scheduled to take place over the next couple months. Unfortunately, as everyone knows by now, the world looks very different because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Offices have been closed, meetings have become phone conferences, schools have shut their doors and cities and states have installed massive restrictions on travel. Working from home has caused me and countless other people to go a little stir crazy. However, this might give everyone a sense as to what too many seniors throughout our country experience every day. According to the University of Michigan and the American Association of Retired People (AARP), one-third of older Americans (ages 50 to 80) suffer from loneliness.
Obviously, given the new guidelines from the Center for Disease Control regarding social distancing, problems associated with social isolation are only going to get worse. Social isolation amongst seniors can have negative impacts on their health. For example, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, social isolation can lead to an increase risk of heart disease, depression and mortality.
So how can we encourage older Americans to say connected with family and friends while still staying at home? Seniors who have the technology can stay in touch by using video chatting services, social media, phones and texting. Alan Teo, a physician teacher at the Oregon Health and Science University’s School of Medicine, reported that video chatting helps fight depression associated with social isolation in adults 60 and older. According to the data, video chatting (compared to instant messaging, social media and email) is the most effective form of communication to fend off depression.
In addition, seniors can communicate with other people by participating in online faith-based services. For instance, houses of worship have moved their services to the web so everyone can still participate. This a great way for seniors to stay connected with their community without having to leave their home.
It’s not just social isolation that’s a problem for seniors during this pandemic. The most pressing issue is how we can keep our older Americans safe. Seniors are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, so guarding their safety is incredibly important. B’nai B’rith, as a national sponsor of low-income senior housing across the country, is very aware that precautions need to be taken to ensure our resident’s well-being. Our sponsored buildings have already cancelled community events like educational classes and parties in the building. In addition, hand sanitizers have been placed throughout the properties and building staff have been given instructions on how to ensure their own safety, as well as the residents. Furthermore, buildings have encouraged everyone to practice “social distancing”.
At the B’nai B’rith Goldberg Towers and the Pasadena Interfaith Manor in Houston, beginning in mid-March staff contacted all their residents, making sure they had food and medicine to last through the end of the month. Additionally, building staff offered to help those residents who were unable to get their food and medications. Also, there are plans in place to regularly check-in on residents through April. Lastly, staff has been instructed to wear hand gloves when entering a resident’s apartment to ensure the safety of everyone.
Almost everyone either has an older adult in their family or part of their social circle. With COVID-19 sadly having no end in sight, now would be a great time to contact the seniors in your life. Even if they don’t need help getting life’s necessities, video chatting or talking on the phone for a few minutes could go a long way in their physical and mental well-being.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Legislative 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.
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.
By Breana Clark
Achieving greater recognition of the needs of our homeless population has become an undeterred focus of mine. Professionally, I am connected to the residents who call B’nai B’rith sponsored, low-income senior housing home, and through volunteering with a local United Methodist Church, I help address local homelessness in the District of Columbia. Through these organizations, I have witnessed a devastating national trend: the apparent aging of our nation’s homeless population.
On the surface, the current proportion of homeless individuals who are seniors represents a failure of our society to take care of our oldest citizens. Though, it is also an expensive problem to ignore. An older person who has not yet reached “retirement age” (those ages 50-64) represents a group which frequently falls between safety nets that are age based. Programs that are meant to intercept the part of our population that, generally speaking, are cycling off the workforce are generally reserved for those who have reached the magical age of 65 (or 62 for subsidized senior housing). Thus, many folks who have lost jobs, lost income or who do not have enough savings, find themselves stuck between the gap, and enter their “senior years” having expensive untreated conditions and deteriorating health.
It should come at no surprise that navigating the conditions of living on the street or experiencing insecure housing (this includes nighttime shelters, a couch at a friend or relative’s home, or frequent relocation because of unreliable conditions) exacerbates physical and/or mental health conditions, poor nutrition and untreated chronic illness. It’s imperative to point this out, as we see that health care needs by those aged 50-64 who lack housing are awfully similar to housed individuals 65 and older. Premature aging and shortened life expectancies are inevitable when one lacks the basic of human necessities in order to survive.
Simply put, seniors have the steepest housing challenge. This should come at no surprise if we look at increasing poverty amongst retirees as well as the decreasing availability of affordable housing. In fact, more than four million people above the age of 65 live in poverty, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Of those individuals, only 1.6 million receive rental subsidies from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
About 10,000 people turn 65 every day in U.S. Based on demographics alone, Justice in Aging, a national nonprofit legal advocacy organization that fights senior poverty, estimates that this will result in nearly 93,000 homeless seniors, doubling the 44,000 in 2010. This number becomes even more significant when economic factors are taken into consideration. While many may hold a stereotyped version of who is included among our homeless and home insecure, it’s important to remember a myriad of economic occurrences that have proven to be especially burdensome in the last decade: the Great Recession, mortgage debt accumulation following the housing crisis, wage stagnation, skyrocketing underemployment, the rising cost of medication and goods and the increasing lack of affordable housing.
Furthermore, in light of recent natural disasters having required evacuation, hunkering down and taking shelter, we have witnessed how quickly circumstances can change for someone depending on their very meager earnings or assets to survive. The recent tragedy of several seniors dying at a Florida nursing home that found itself in the wake of Hurricane Irma illustrates a true reminder that we need to be able to provide safe, quality care and housing for seniors regardless of whether they can live independently or not.
In my capacity as a volunteer, with a mission to serve our homeless in Washington, D.C., I’ve learned a lot about the unique needs of those in our community who lack housing. What has become obvious is the need to address the significant number of folks who have reached their older years but lack housing, health care and an income that can support their basic needs. We are living in a time where our lack of commitment to seniors’ well being, as they age, is not just appalling; the circumstances are dire. Every day, seniors die from a lack of resources in a country that saw economic, social and political progress as a result of their contributions.
If Congress and the current administration want a society that is great, it has to start simple: we must prioritize health and housing for ourselves and our neighbors as we age. We must strive for a society that does not allow housing insecurity and plummeting health to be inevitable part of aging into poverty. We must commit to taking care of the oldest among us.
By Evan Carmen
We were very pleased to welcome Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) recently to B’nai B’rith Apartments in Allentown, Pa. Dent has been an influential member of Congress since January 2005, and presently serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. This committee is responsible for appropriating money for the Section 202 Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing program. B’nai B’rith is a proud sponsor of Section 202 HUD housing, was excited to show Dent all the great residents, staff and amenities in the building.
B’nai B’rith’s long history with Section 202 housing started in 1971 when we formed a partnership with HUD to sponsor housing for low-income seniors. The B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network in the United States comprises 38 buildings and serves more than 8,000 people. B’nai B’rith International is the largest national Jewish sponsor of low-income housing for seniors in the country.
When Dent arrived he was treated to a tour of the building which featured an apartment unit, patio, common area, computer room and arts and crafts room. The tour allowed the representative to see all the building’s wonderful amenities and how Section 202 properties provide a community and family atmosphere for seniors. After the tour Dent spoke with about 90 B’nai B’rith residents regarding Section 202 rental subsidies, social security and health care. This Q-and-A allowed residents to directly tell the congressman how these federal programs affect their daily lives and for the congressman to share his perspective on important issues that impact seniors.
After the event Dent said, "I truly appreciate the great work B'nai B'rith has been doing here in Allentown, Pa. for decades. B'nai B'rith provides affordable housing options to many seniors they very much like it here so we are blessed to have this organization in the community. And we want to continue to support organizations like B'nai B'rith and other who providing affordable housing in 202 for so many seniors and elders across the country."
In attendance from the B’nai B’rith Housing community were B’nai B’rith International Associate Director of the Center for Senior Services Janel Doughten; B’nai B’rith Assistant Director for Aging Policy Evan Carmen; B’nai B’rith Senior Program Associate Breana Clark; as well as B’nai B’rith Apartments staff including Board President Barbra Butz; Project Administrator Bob Sipos; Property Management Assistant Kathy Andreas Heath; Service Coordinator Jennifer Leffler; Rental Assistant Jessica Yaich and Recertification Specialist Beth Gonzalez.
During the past few months we are happy to report that Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) have visited B’nai B’rith sponsored buildings in their districts. These congressional visits have given representatives firsthand exposure to the critical importance Section 202 buildings play in the lives of low-income seniors. Hopefully members of Congress leave Section 202 buildings with the understanding that they are not just a pile of bricks sitting on concrete—they are buildings that provide a safe and secure community for seniors, and more importantly a place for older Americans to call home.
By Rachel Knopp
On the 13th anniversary of B’nai B’rith’s Resident Leadership Retreat, 28 seniors joined together at Perlman Camp in Lake Como, Pa. with the intent to bring a greater sense of community back to their homes. These representatives came from the 38 low-income senior housing facilities from across the country that B’nai B’rith proudly supports.
As the largest national Jewish sponsor of federally subsidized housing for the elderly in the United States, B’nai B’rith has become a key advocate for low-income seniors on Capitol Hill. However, experiences like the Resident Leadership Retreat remind us that our residents are their own best advocates for their communities.
Janel Doughten, associate director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services, reminds us of the importance of our resident leaders. “Unlike staff and the board of directors who go home at the end of the day, our residents call these facilities home at the beginning and end of each day. The goal is to help create a sense of community among the residents.”
The safety, security, and peace of mind that B’nai B’rith buildings have brought to residents lives were frequent topics of discussion between attendees. One resident from the B’nai B’rith building in Tucson, Ariz. said that finding his current building brought him out of homelessness. Many others shared in the sentiment including Bobbie Rudolph, from B’nai B’rith Apartments in Allentown, Pa., “I no longer have to worry about being evicted, due to not being able to pay my rent. The B’nai B’rith and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Supporting Housing for the Elderly Program allows seniors to retire and live with dignity.
With this in mind, it becomes clear why the resident leaders are so invested in strengthening their communities. Some representatives are long-standing officers of their building’s Resident Council, while others are self-proclaimed activists who demonstrated leadership by starting a recycling bin, like Liam Flanagan who lives in Covenant House, which is located in Brighton, Mass. Despite the range of displays in leadership, each representative arrived to Camp Perlman with an open mind to learn from one another.
Diane Daria, also from Covenant House, regards her building as providing a “built-in community.” Many of the seniors in B’nai B’rith housing facilities have lived alone for many years, like Daria. Before moving into her building, she lived by herself in a little bungalow located in the suburbs of Massachusetts. Now, Daria has the opportunity to connect with the over 250 residents that also call Covenant House home.
Still, Daria recognizes her responsibility to foster community. In addition to taking Russian and cultural classes to connect with her neighbors, she is an impassioned member of the newly-formed Residents Council. Throughout the retreat, Daria connected with other resident leaders to brainstorm ways to engage more residents.
During the day that focused on diversity, the group suggested ways to have more inclusive programming so that they can cultivate a community of acceptance within their buildings. While many buildings offer English as a second language classes, the group felt native-English speakers would benefit from Spanish or Russian as a second language classes as well. One resident, Jerry Fiman, of Covenant Place in St. Louis, shared his initiative to have a representative from each of the distinct cultural groups of his building acting as active members of the Residents Council.
The spirit of open-mindedness was exemplified that same night during a Havdalah ceremony to conclude the celebration of Shabbat. Most of the resident leaders are not Jewish, yet they approached the HaMotzi blessing that preceded each meal with respect and curiosity. Each resident leader placed their hands around the flame of the Havdalah candle, following a considerate discussion of interfaith values that morning. The culture of acceptance that was felt throughout the retreat is undoubtedly an integral part of their communities back home.
When the Resident Leadership Retreat concluded its week of living and learning, many expressed the instilled sense of confidence that the retreat provided. Helen Jordan from Pasadena, Texas expressed how the retreat not only fortified the beliefs she already had, but the curriculum gave her a means to implement them. A key component of the retreat was to harness this feeling of empowerment so that residents can serve as advocates once they return.
The retreat included an advocacy session led by Evan Carmen, B’nai B’rith assistant director for Aging Policy: “The goal of the advocacy session is to educate B'nai B'rith Housing Network residents on the best ways they can engage with their elected representatives; this way their members of Congress are aware of the issues which are important to them.”
One of the attendees, Martha Boyle, has confirmed a meeting with Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) Boyle plans to discuss with him about rental subsidies as it relates to affordable housing for seniors.
For many of the resident leaders, a week at a sleep away camp tucked away in the Poconos Mountains provided an escape from their regular routine. For most low-income residents, a week of vacation has been an unavailable luxury to them for years. For others, the space to learn in a classroom environment was a reminiscent change, found to be invigorating.
From my perspective as a member of a younger generation, I am inspired by the commitment to learn and make a difference that I see in the generation before me. The leaders who I grew to regard as friends are the same leaders who pushed forward for the social changes I enjoy today. Since then, they have not quit moving and shaking. I regard the B’nai B’rith facilities across the country as a new ground for these leaders to make their mark.
Rachel Knopp is a student at The George Washington University studying International Affairs and Conflict Resolution. She is an Intern at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy in Washington, D.C. In the spring of 2017, she studied Anthropology and Spanish in Cusco, Perú. Prior to interning at B’nai B’rith, she interned at The Israeli Embassy to the United States and the Israeli Mission to the United Nations
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