The B’nai B’rith seniors program began in the summer of 1964, when a small group of dedicated B’nai B’rith volunteers decided they wanted to provide this type of service in their communities. The driving force behind this idea was the late Abe Cramer of Pottstown, Pa., a B’nai B’rith member involved in the real-estate business.
Along with B’nai B’rith members in other communities, Abe became aware of the HUD Section 202 Senior Housing program which made monies available to community-based not-for-profits to provide low income senior housing in local communities.
As part of the U.S. Housing Act of 1959, the Section 202 program is the primary program in the U.S. for providing affordable rental housing with supportive services for the elderly, so they can continue to age in place with dignity and independence. Generally, it is a multi-year process from the time the initial application is submitted, through construction, rent-up and opening of the property.
The first B’nai B’rith property was opened in September 1971, in Wilkes Barre, PA. More buildings followed, and we now boast a senior housing network that has grown to a total of 42 apartment buildings located in 27 communities across the United States.
Generally, we serve close to 8,000 persons, throughout the United States. Additionally, B’nai B’rith sponsors senior residences in Canada, Israel, England, Australia and New Zealand, each funded and governed by programs in the host country.
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), one in six older Americans lives below the federal poverty line. In Section 202 buildings, residents pay one-third of their income for rent, with a federal subsidy paid to the property to assist in meeting the operating budget.
Each property in the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network has a waiting list for apartments, because the need is so great.
It should be noted that the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing Network is more than “bricks and mortar” and provides so much more than just basic shelter needs. Quality housing is key to aging with dignity. Each of our buildings provides personal interaction, services, and life enhancing activities for every resident in the property.
Our goal is to not just build an apartment building, but to create a sense of community, and a welcoming environment for all of the residents, as well as to keep them living independently in their neighborhoods for as long as possible.
That is why this program is so unique. It is housing built for seniors, with services built in to help them create and maintain that community. Each building has a Service Coordinator who works to bring services to residents who need additional help to live independently.
The Service Coordinator also plans varied informational sessions for residents, such as health fairs, nutritional counseling, or even how not to become a victim of elder fraud.
Additionally, CSS staff in the Washington, DC office help create programming on a national level, including applying for grants to fund programming for the buildings.
As part of the CSS mission to provide safe, affordable housing, we provide training for the on-site property managers, service coordinators and boards of directors to ensure that the buildings are well run and provide opportunities to share information and knowledge.
Topics are varied and relevant, including how to deal with difficult residents and gossip/adult bullying, to how to work with and motivate volunteers in the buildings.
Each building has a tenants’ association for the residents to plan their own activities as well. Our most innovative program, begun in 1987, is the week-long B’nai B’rith Resident Leadership Retreat.
Held every other summer at Perlman Camp in Pennsylvania, it brings together leaders of the tenants’ associations for a week-long retreat of workshops to help them to be better leaders in their communities.
The residents share ideas, network and have some fun. They also mingle with the young Perlman campers in a variety of intergenerational programs and activities. This summer we will be holding our 15th retreat.
Our motto is: People Helping People. And, after 172 years of providing service to the community, we think we’re pretty successful!!
For future blog entries, we will focus on specific issues that are relevant to the management of the buildings, the residents, boards and volunteers.