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Special to the JTA B’nai B’rith Sponsors Federally-funded Housing for Elderly

August 5, 1986
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Decent affordable housing is one of the most urgent needs of a steadily aging American population — American Jewish elderly — and one Jewish organization has, for 15 years, sought to at least partly meet that need by sponsoring erection of apartment buildings for the elderly.

Since 1971, B’nai B’rith International has sponsored the construction of 21 apartment buildings for senior citizens, serving the housing needs of more than 3,000 elderly Americans in more than 15 communities in the United States, Americans fighting to make ends meet on fixed incomes, according to Harvey Gerstein, chairman of the B’nai B’rith Senior Citizen Housing Committee.

The housing program is funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the program depends entirely on the expertise and involvement of B’nai B’rith volunteers who create and develop these housing projects from inception to occupancy, Gerstein reported.

B’nai B’rith’s first apartment building for the aged was opened at Wilkes-Barre, Pa., in 1971, with 173 units and 220 residents. A facility with 60 units and 75 residents has been opened in Forth Worth, Tx. There are two B’nai B’rith housing projects in Silver Spring, Md.

The first Silver Spring project was opened in 1979 with 135 units. The second, with 100 units, was opened in 1985. The second Silver Spring facility is a separate one and not an addition to the first facility, though the two buildings are connected by a glass enclosed promenade. There are 238 residents in the two Silver Spring facilities.


B’nai B’rith housing facilities are planned for Deerfield Beach, Fla., and South Orange, N.J. The Deerfield Beach facility will have 100 units. The South Orange project will have 97 units. Construction is under way on the Deerfield Beach facility and construction of the South Orange facility is expected to begin in 1987.

Gerstein said that the agency’s housing projects have facilities and staffs which provide programs to meet the social and cultural needs of residents. He said, “We want our residents to take advantage of opportunities offered in the surrounding community.”

He said this was “part of our effort to establish a caring, supportive environment that allows our senior citizen residents to live in dignity and independence.”

Gerstein reported that almost all residents receive rental subsidies under Section 8 of the Federal Housing Act. Basically, he reported, the B’nai B’rith requirement is that 30 percent of a resident’s income be paid as rent, with the balance covered by the rent supplement.

Asked by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency if B’nai B’rith had any firm estimates as to the number of elderly persons who would want to live in such facilities, if the apartments were available, Arthur Shulman, B’nai B’rith communications director, replied, “We believe that figure would be many thousands, judging from the waiting lists for current facilities and the fact that each new facility achieves total occupancy readily.”

He added that almost all B’nai B’rith residences maintain a mailing list, usually made up of the names of about 100 applicants. Sometimes, such a list may be “frozen,” since it would be futile to add more names when there is little possibility that many vacancies will become available.


As to procedures, waiting lists are maintained on a first-come, first-served basis. Most residences review the waiting lists annually to determine whether the applicants still wish to be considered.

Another B’nai B’rith service to elderly Jews stems from cutbacks in recent years in federal support for local community service programs which have had a severe impact on many elderly persons living on fixed incomes in urban areas. Isolated elderly Jews are often unable to join in community services. Some are shut-in, or handicapped, unable to fend for themselves.

B’nai B’rith has created a Community Volunteer Service Commission (CVS), which has developed a range of programming efforts to meet the needs of isolated elderly Jews.

Harry Levitch, CVS chairman, said, “If you help an older person change a light bulb, or drive a senior citizen to the doctor, or deliver food packages to isolated, elderly citizens, or visit patients in nursing homes, or ease a shut-in’s loneliness with a reassuring daily telephone call, that simple act might not seem like much. But it can make an enormous difference in the life of a senior citizen.”

The CVS, whose participants make up CVS Mitzvah Corps, was formally started in 1973, but many of the programs had been under way for some 50 years in B’nai B’rith.

Currently, the JTA was told, the Mitzvah Corps functions in 11 cities, with some 120 members. They are men and women, ranging in age from the 20s to the 70s, each investing about three hours a week in Mitzvah Corps work.

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