The Arizona Jewish Post highlights the pair of B'nai B'rith low income senior housing properties in Tucson, focusing on the quality of life enjoyed by its residents, as well as its visionaries, Holocaust survivors Gerd and Inge Strauss.
B'nai B'rith is the largest national Jewish sponsor of federally subsidized housing for the elderly in the United States. Our Senior Housing Network in the U.S. consists of 42 buildings in 26 communities, encompassing more than 4,000 apartment units and serving more than 8,000 people.
Read more about these properties and their residents, below:
Many Tucsonans are surprised to learn that the Jewish community sponsors not one but two nationally recognized independent housing communities for low and very low income seniors: B’nai B’rith Covenant House of Tucson and the Gerd & Inge Strauss Manor on Pantano.
Covenant House resident Carolyne Vogel feels gratitude and relief for the Covenant House. “For years, I worked all the time and didn’t have any close neighbors,” she says. “Now I have two really good friends here. At Covenant House, it’s very relaxing. I feel safe here.” A four-year resident, she feels so secure that her basic needs are met, she’s liberated to focus on her hobbies.
Liz Kanter Groskind, president of the Strauss Manor board, echoes the sentiments of her counterparts at Covenant House. “We get handwritten thank you notes from the residents all the time,” says Groskind. “They truly appreciate all the extras. We simply believe that those who have the least should live somewhere dignified, beautiful and safe. We’re not going to let you merely subsist.”
Although both facilities house residents from diverse backgrounds, the numerous Jewish residents, including several Holocaust survivors, appreciate the Jewish touches that the boards provide, from menorot in the spacious and elegantly decorated lobbies, to Jewish library materials, to brisket and latkes during Chanukah and more.
Both properties were the vision and work of longtime Tucsonan Gerd Strauss, who died in 2009.
Holocaust survivors Gerd and Inge Strauss, childhood sweethearts from Germany, immigrated to the United States in 1947 and relocated to Tucson in 1986. Strauss brought both properties to fruition in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and B’nai B’rith International, the largest national Jewish sponsor of federally subsidized housing for the elderly in the United States.
After building the 119-unit Covenant House in 1995, he went on to establish the 80-unit Strauss on Pantano facility that bears his name, which opened in 2006. Residents spend 30 percent of their income on rent; the rest is subsidized by HUD. Going into his 90s, Strauss was planning a third property in Sahuarita, which never materialized.
Tucson was lucky to benefit from the timing of Strauss’ vision and energy. “Section 202 program funding [HUD capital advances and operational subsidies] doesn’t exist anymore. It is difficult to recreate the types of programs our communities enjoy,” Olshan laments. B’nai B’rith continues to support the Tucson properties by providing technical and professional training to their supervisory boards and management and employment company, Biltmore Properties.
Many Americans are still feeling the effects of the economic recession that began in 2008. Even with the decline in unemployment rates and the recovery of the stock market, one segment that was hardest hit may never fully recover: senior citizens.
The Baltimore Jewish Times published an article on the Jewish senior citizen community in Baltimore, and how 27 percent are living below 200 percent of the poverty line.
B'nai B'rith is the largest national Jewish sponsor of federally subsidized housing for the elderly in the United States with 42 buildings in 27 communities.
Mark Olshan, associate executive vice president, and Rachel Goldberg, director of aging policy at B’nai B’rith International, were reached for comment in the article, excerpts of which can be found below:
Today, said Rachel Goldberg, director of aging policy at B’nai B’rith International, shrinking pensions and retirement accounts are contributing to a greater need than ever before.
“People retire and are often living at a much lower standard than they did before,” said Goldberg, “so even in communities where you think of the people you know as being comfortable, there’s a real question as to how comfortable they’re going to be when it becomes time to retire, whether it’s because you want to or because physically, you have to.”
B’nai B’rith officials, who have been reaching out to Jews in need for more than 170 years, say stereotypes have hurt their organization in the past.
Part of their work involves helping ensure Jewish seniors have a home to live in, something that has become increasingly difficult for many elderly citizens across the United States, as the cost of living has skyrocketed alongside an increasing life expectancy. With a fixed income and little to no access to additional sources of funds, many seniors turn to B’nai B’rith for their affordable senior apartments.
“Obviously there are a lot of images of Jews in media as ostentatiously wealthy and all these ideas about running the entertainment industry and what not,” said B’nai B’rith’s Goldberg. “Those stereotypes about what Jews are and what Jews have still really do exist, and it affects not only public perception and anti-Semitism, but it makes it a little bit more difficult for low-income older adults who are Jewish to reach out for the services they need because people internalize those kinds of things. It’s one reason, in this community, that people are a little uncomfortable asking for help.”
Mark Olshan, associate executive vice president at B’nai B’rith, can recall one not-so-distant memory of a town in southern Florida denying the organization’s zoning request to build affordable senior housing there because, town officials and community members said, “there’s no poverty in the Jewish community here.”
A nearby town got wind of what happened and offered land for the units, but the experience was a wake-up call, said Olshan.
On Wednesday, April 16, residents of the B'nai B'rith Strauss Manor joined in an interfaith, inter-generational Easter egg decoration session with students from Palo Verde High School in Tucson, Ariz.
The event was a hit, as students mingled with seniors for several hours on their artistic endeavors. According to the Manor's Facebook page, "interaction with children enhances socialization, increases emotional support and improves health."
Check out some of the best photos of the event in the slideshow, below:
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Mark Olshan, associate executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International:
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