Editor: Breana Clark
Reflections on the Resident Leadership Retreat
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.
A Note from the Chair: Seth Riklin
I hope that you and your families have been enjoying this summer. This has been one of the busiest summers I have had from a family, professional and B’nai B’rith perspective. This summer has been busy working on B’nai B’rith senior housing issues, and issues that affect the safety net that our residents so desperately need. In early June, I was in Washington, D.C. for a meeting that brought the B’nai B’rith International Executive Board together. During the meeting, I updated the Board on all that we have accomplished this year.
Following the meeting, I had the pleasure of joining the Center for Senior Services team on their visit to Rep. Katherine Clark’s (D-Mass.) office. Clark represents the residents of The Coolidge at Sudbury Apartments, located in Sudbury, Mass. and is a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. During the meeting, the B’nai B’rith team talked about President Donald Trump’s proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Budget regarding rental subsidies and proposed rental reforms. We strongly advocated for the importance of rental subsidies for the residents of the B’nai B’rith Housing Network. Clark’s office was very receptive to our policy positions and the CSS team will continue to advocate in the months ahead on Capitol Hill. We have hosted members of Congress and their staff at a number of our buildings this summer. If you would like to host your member of Congress, please contact B’nai B’rith Assistant Director for Aging Policy Evan Carmen (email@example.com).
Our Resident Leadership Retreat went well, and those buildings that sent residents for leadership training will benefit greatly. For B’nai B’rith Associate Director of the Center for Senior Services Janel Doughten, our biennial program is a labor of love and something she has poured her heart into for twenty years. Our vice chair, Abbie Stone, brought her daughter to Camp Perlman, and together they added a new dimension, making a difference in our resident campers’ lives. They will share their experience with us on our next Senior Housing Network video conference call on Oct. 24, 2017.
We appreciate your help and your ideas as we look for new ways to engage the Boards and Management of all our buildings in the Network. With your help, we will continue to gain momentum and make a difference in 2017.
Center for Senior Services staff had the pleasure of spending time with Martha at the Resident Leadership Retreat that took place Aug. 2 – 8. She shared that she loved everything about the retreat: the leadership, education and laughing with people she had just met for the first time. The retreat enabled her and everyone in attendance to participate in leadership skill building that has made our advocacy successful!
B’nai B’rith Advocates Against FY18 Trump Administration Budget Cuts
Given President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) budget we have continued our efforts with the American Association of Service Coordinators (AASC) to make members of Congress aware of the importance of housing for low-income seniors and the service coordinator program. Over the past few months we have met with staff members from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Al Green (D-Texas) reinforcing how rental subsidies for B’nai B’rith residents must be fully funded in the upcoming 2018 budget.
Also, B’nai B’rith issued a press release after the White House came out with its full budget. We expressed concern how the budget will negatively impact seniors regarding health care, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and housing. We asked Congress not to approve of Trump’s budget because of the damage it will cause to the low-income senior community.
B’nai B’rith Budget Concerns Brought to Elected Officials Awareness
B’nai B’rith was pleased to host Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) at Martin D. Popky B’nai B’rith Apartments in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Cartwright enjoyed a tour of the building where he visited three apartments, the TV common area, and the library and computer rooms. Afterwards, Cartwright held a “Coffee with your Congressman” program where he spoke with residents about affordable housing, social security and health care.
“I am here today at this low-income subsidized housing unit because this is part of the American fabric—that people who are of limited means will not be shuffled off to the curb, they will [be] treated with respect and dignity. This is something we as Americans have come to expect,” Cartwright said.
We are also excited to report that Kristin Magnotta from Sen. Bob Casey’s (D-Pa.) office visited Amos Towers, in Scranton, Pa. Magnotta toured the building and spoke with residents about constituent services.
Additionally, Melissa Martin from Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-Ariz.) office and the mayor of Tucson, Jonathan Rothschild, visited Covenant House in Arizona.
After the meeting Rothschild said: “In Tucson, facilities like Covenant House and Straus Manor provide needed services for our senior community that otherwise may not be able to receive them. The beauty of facilities like Covenant House and Straus Manor is that those services are delivered to all the residents with dignity, with the highest regard for personal health and wellness, and for the building of community. These kind facilities would not be possible without the assistance of our federal housing dollars. And it’s so important that those federal housing dollars are maintained [in order for] those services to be maintained at the levels that our seniors need and deserve."
We were very pleased to host U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) at the Nathan I. Nagler Queens B'nai B'rith House in Flushing, N.Y. on Aug. 10. Meng toured the housing facility and met with residents to discuss the critical importance of housing for older adults with limited means. The congresswoman held a Q-and-A with 70 seniors and answered questions regarding rental subsidies and Supplemental Security Income benefits. She also addressed the need to protect Social Security and Medicare, and said that she sponsored legislation to stop spoofing—phone calls to groups like senior citizens that claim to be the IRS or the police to take advantage of them.
The 411 on the 2017 Managers & Service Coordinators Meeting
By Janel Doughten
Center for Senior Services
More than 50 managers and service coordinators attended the annual CSS Managers/Service Coordinators meeting held June 7 – 9 in Philadelphia. The meeting began on Wednesday, June 7, with guest speakers Kathi Caber from the office of Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Phil Innamorato from the office of Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Both Caber and Innamorato explained how every U.S. senators’ office has constituent services staff, and how to make use of those services to benefit the residents of the CSS housing network. Highlights of the meeting included an update from Randall J. Scheetz, chief of the Account Executive Team, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Judith Chavis, executive vice president of Public Policy, American Association of Service Coordinators who gave an overview of the new HUD guidelines for service coordinators. Other sessions included programming for residents, services to support formerly homeless residents, training on HUD initiatives, protecting resident files, as well as the opportunity to network with colleagues.
A big thank you to everyone that made this such a great meeting—both the speakers and the participants!
Congressional Staff Visits to Section 202 Buildings
By Evan Carmen
Center for Senior Services
B’nai B’rith, teaming alongside with representatives from the Elderly Housing Coalition, took congressional staffers on tours of Section 202 buildings on three separate Mondays in May. The tours are part of an effort to push the importance of and need for more low-income housing to Congress. Properties visited included St. Mary’s Court and Samuel J. Simmons NCBA Estates in Washington, D.C. and Homecrest House, a B’nai B’rith sponsored property, in Silver Spring, Md. During these tours congressional staffers are educated on the benefits of Section 202 and the service coordinator program, and to see a property in person.
“Being able to hear directly from senior residents about their experience living at Homecrest House was incredibly insightful. It’s one thing to know the policies of Section 202 housing and talk about the numbers, but it means more to visit a location and see firsthand the facilities, and hear about the great work being done is more impactful,” Kelly Riddle, legislative assistant for Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), said on her visit to Homecrest House.
LeadingAge Vice President of Housing Policy Linda Couch helped organized the tours to the residential facilities.
“The Hill staff who came on this tour lucked out! I’m so glad we heard from Homecrest House residents, one of whom talked in a deeply personal way about what living at Homecrest House means to her. The subsidized housing, she said, means she does not have to be a burden on her children, that it gives her a sense of dignity and a sense of purpose,” Couch said.
Couch added, “It’s true: Homecrest House is a home to hundreds of older adults and it also has a very large heart.”
Save HUD 202 Rally
(L-R): Evan Carmen, assistant director for aging policy at B’nai B’rith, Breana Clark, senior program associate of the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services, Taylor Schwink, digital media strategist at B’nai B’rith, Rachel Knopp, intern for the B’nai B’rith Center for Human Rights and Public Policy, Janel Doughten, associate director of the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services.
Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is proposing to give the secretary of HUD the authority to increase rental contributions from 30 percent of adjusted income to 35 percent of gross income, and increase minimum rental payments to $50 a month. Increasing the minimum rental payments to $50 a month would impact people who make less than $2,000 a year. While the administration’s proposed budget has a hardship exemption, I am curious to hear from the Trump Administration as to which low-income seniors who make less than $2,000 don’t qualify for a hardship exemption.
I think all reasonable people can agree, seniors who make less than $2,000 a year don’t need the federal government increasing their rent!
During the rally Sen. Menendez said, “I am proud to stand with you today and every day to fight to protect and expand affordable housing for seniors.” We certainly urge other members of Congress to support additional funding for senior affordable housing as the need will only increase.
Attaining a Grant: What You Need to Know First
By Breana Clark
Senior Program Associate
Center for Senior Services
The topic of grants is one of complexity. Despite this, nonprofits, feeling uncertain about congressional support for the expansion of federal programs, are giving into the pressure to explore other potential sources of funding. Many have recognized that it is both necessary and responsible to analyze the sustainability of their programs and desire ways to financially supplement services provided and, overall, ensure protection of their mission to serve.
In many of the B’nai B’rith buildings across the country, management and boards are eagerly brainstorming ways in which they can seek outside support for the services that allow seniors to age in place and with dignity. In response, grant writing has become an in-demand skill and one that nonprofits see as a gateway to “untapped” resources. Though it can be a daunting task to those unacquainted, many of us serving the most vulnerable of our community have determined that grants are truly necessary going forward. However, before we can begin searching for grants, giving priorities, suitable partnerships, or even community support, it is crucial for a resident-centered foundation to be built. First, one must commit to conducting an assessment of the area, residents and building so that we are better prepared navigating the world of grants.
Assessment of your area is not only helpful, it’s vital. Later, down the line, when a grant application is being put together, capturing the essence of the residents’ home in relation to its location will be key. In doing so, you want to collect unique qualities about your site. For instance, your building may be located in a hurricane zone and proper steps need to be taken to ensure disaster preparedness. Or, maybe your surrounding area is not able to accommodate the majority Russian speaking population that live in your building and there is difficulty accessing programs and other resources. Perhaps public transportation is limited to those who are able to walk long distances to scarce bus stops and residents in your building would benefit from door-to-door transit. Whether you’re able to correlate solutions to any details about your building’s location or not, its geographic, physical or demographic makeup will assist any individual wishing to take the next step in identifying suitable grant opportunities.
Further, data about your area can help the grantor conceptualize a perceived need. One of many resources to accomplish this is the National Affordable Housing Management Association (NAHMA). At its website (nahma.apartmentsmart.com), one can find data breaking down the affordable housing programs across the country by state, town/city or congressional district. Each jurisdiction is characterized by the number and name of projects, number of units and type of program. This essential tool allows one, for instance, to look up the number of Section 202 units in the city and state for which your building is located. In order to paint an accurate portrait, sometimes it is helpful to know how one fits into the larger picture. The data found on NAHMA’s website can play an important part in this.
In most cases, assessment of the residents themselves can most clearly advance the impact of a grant application by showing clear alignment of need and benefit to the building. Collecting this information will also play a major role in the “storytelling” component to any successful grant application. Without knowing the organic details of your building, the application may operate on assumptions. When assessing residents, you want to be able to answer the following questions: “Who are we/they?” and “What are the current and/or future needs?” While any manager or service coordinator who is in tune with the building will have a general sense of the presented needs of residents, conducting an evaluation of the residents themselves might reveal significant information. While residents may confirm known information about what enables them to securely age in place and with dignity, if given the chance, they may also share potential solutions to the identified issues, or barriers. Having a list of needs and citing the residents’ identification and/or solution is imperative to conducting a search of grant opportunities. Not only will you have a better lens for seeking out potential funding opportunities, the “why” behind any potential application will be fueled by resident input.
In addition to resident input, classifying distinct qualities of the building as it pertains to the resident population is essential. You may want to know the number of residents who fit within common designations such as “frail” or “very frail.” You might make age categories: senior residents skew younger on a whole (those in their 60s and 70s, closer to eligibility age), older (those in their 80s, 90s and older), or are a representative mixture. Perhaps there is a significant number of residents with a specific medical or physical need such as diabetes or use of a mobility assistance device. This is telling information that you want to be able to speak to. You also want to know current limitations and sources for which residents are already receiving assistance. Having the estimations of average annual income as well as commonly utilized programs such as Meals on Wheels or SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) can be helpful for capturing this type of need. Tallying and having a record of these prominent qualities will play a huge role in finding grantors and also properly applying to suitable funding opportunities. However, you should remember that any collected information should be confidential, collected in the aggregate, and used for no other reason than to respond to the presented needs of residents in your community.
Last but not least, you want to assess the building itself. If your building was built several decades ago and is in desperate need of renovation, make a note of this. Are there any accessibility concerns? Do a mental and physical walk around of your building and property. Think about what will be needed five years, 10 years and 20 years down the road to make certain that the health and safety of residents is prioritized. By conducting these simple reviews, you may pick up on something that has been going unseen or unaddressed. This will better suit anyone planning to wade into the pool of grants.
By conducting informal and formal assessments of the building, residents and area, assumptions can be avoided and time will not be wasted on non-suitable grant opportunities. Before ever entering the grant application process, gathering this type of information makes it possible to accurately speak on behalf of your residents and building. If any person desiring to apply for grants can better focus on the perceived and spoken needs of residents based on their locale, health and resources, seeking out and receiving grants will be a more fruitful and successful exercise!
What Has Staff Been Up To?
In May, B’nai B’rith International Associate Director of the Center for Senior Services Janel Doughten was invited to speak at Southeastern Property Management’s (SPM) Affordable Housing Managers Conference on “Dealing with Difficult Residents & Adult Bullying.” Approximately 75 managers from SPM managed properties attended the annual conference.
In June, Doughten was elected president of the board of directors of St. Mary's Court, a 140 unit Section 202 building located in Washington, DC. Prior to being elected president, Janel served on the board at St. Mary’s Court for four years.
Evan Carmen, B’nai B’rith International assistant director for Aging Policy, and Abbie Stone, board president of Covenant House were invited to speak at a LeadingAge event on June 1 in Arizona. They spoke about legislation on Capitol Hill that could impact the housing community and how B’nai B’rith and it’s sponsored buildings work together to be an advocate to members of Congress for the residents of the buildings. Evan also took a tour of Covenant House and Strauss Manor, which are both located in Tucson, Ariz.
As of June 7, Breana Clark, B’nai B’rith International senior program associate, will serve as co-chair of the Income Security committee that serves the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO). LCAO is a coalition of 70 nonprofits serving older Americans and provides a voice for seniors and their families in the ongoing national debate on aging policy. B’nai B’rith has been a vital voice to LCAO for over two decades.
Don’t Miss the B’nai B’rith Annual Housing Conference!
Join your B'nai B'rith senior housing colleagues and local hosts, the B’nai B’rith Apartments of Deerfield Beach, Fla., in December for the 2017 B’nai B’rith Conference on Senior Housing. The conference will take place Sunday, Dec. 3 through Tuesday, Dec. 5 in Delray Beach. Sessions will include updates on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development policies, the new administration and Congress as well as issues that affect the residents living in the B’nai B’rith buildings. On Sunday evening, participants will take a yacht tour of the Intercoastal Waterway, and, on Tuesday, tour the B’nai B’rith Apartments of Deerfield Beach. Delray Beach is famous for its beautiful beach and the Pineapple Grove Arts District. To register, please click here.
Center For Senior Services Newsletter
Welcome to the B'nai B'rith Center for Senior Services quarterly newsletter, Seniority Report.
If you'd like to receive the newsletter by email, click here to subscribe.