Meeting The Needs Of A Graying Population


Jewish agencies are mounting major initiatives to provide support services to the elderly Jews of the city, Long Island and Westchester as newly released figures by UJA-Federation show that the number of Jews 65 and older is continuing to increase.

UJA-Federation is helping to coordinate a letter-writing campaign in support of a city proposal to create a $5 million matching fund for support services to Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCS) in the city.

Fully two-thirds of the elderly Jews in New York City are 75 and older, and 17 percent of them are 85 and older, according to Karen Taylor, associate director of resource development for the organization.

She said 350,000 city residents live in NORCS. Although it is not known how many are Jewish, they may represent a large percentage because in 1990, 13.7 percent of the Jewish residents of the city were 65 and older, Taylor noted.

Although they are generally more economically secure than non-Jews their age, Taylor said a 1990 report found that fewer than 20 percent of those 75-84 and only 3 percent of those 85 and older had incomes above $12,000.

In another development, Jewish agencies on the Island met last week at the behest of UJA-Federation to consider how to establish support services to Jewish seniors, including those living in NORCS.

In addition, UJA-Federation is seeking grant money to hire a consultant who will provide technical assistance to Jewish agencies interested in providing on-site support services to seniors.

One of the ways UJA-Federation is meeting the needs of seniors is through the development of new senior housing. Last month, a 19-unit apartment building for 27 residents was opened near Baruch College at 23rd Street between Lexington and Third avenues.

"For those 19 units, we had 1,800 applications," noted William Rapfogel, executive director of the New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty, a UJA-Federation agency.

The new units fall within the city’s inclusionary zoning that was designed to bring poor people into an otherwise wealthy neighborhood. The annual income of those who moved in had to be between $13,000 and $18,000.

Also opening next week will be a 124-unit apartment building in Starrett City in Brooklyn called Council Towers Three. Rapfogel noted that there were 5,000 applicants for those 124 units. It is adjacent to an existing apartment building that has 123 units for about 180 people, 90 percent of whom are Jewish.

A third building with 123 units is slated to open in another 12 to 16 months. The buildings will form a triangle of more than 360 apartments for 540 to 600 people. They are all subsidized housing for singles and couples 62 and older. To qualify, the maximum income for a couple must be below $18,000.

Rapfogel said that of the 180 residents of the first building that was erected two years ago, 90 percent are elderly Jews from the former Soviet Union and that in the new building, 75 percent will be former Soviet Jews. The reason, he said, is because many elderly former Soviet Jews live in substandard housing and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has made their relocation a priority.

"Senior housing at affordable levels [everything from independent to assisted living] is one of the highest priorities of the Jewish community," said Rapfogel. "The frail, elderly population is projected to double in the next 10 years and as that happens, the urgency to create such housing for this population is magnified."

These new housing units bring to nearly 4,000 the number of such government subsidized units developed in the city by UJA-Federation agencies in the last 25 years, according to the organizationís director of housing, Joanne Hoffman. She said another 400 units are currently in the planning stage in the city. No similar projects are planned on Long Island or Westchester, she said, because property on which to build the projects is not available. The projects in the city were built on city-owned land.

"UJA-Federation is committed to meeting the ever increasing needs of our aging population," said Anita Altman, assistant executive of resource development.

Newly released figures about the elderly Jewish population on Long Island illustrate the critical need for support services. They show that while the number of Jews on the Island continues to shrink, the number of elderly Jews has increased in this decade.

The figures were based upon an analysis by City University sociologist Egon Mayer using a survey conducted last year by Blum & Weprin and 1997 U.S. Census projections. He found that the number of Jews in Nassau County dropped from 203,000 in 1990 to 165,355 last year, while the number in Suffolk dropped from 98,000 to 93,566.

The total number of Jews on Long Island, Mayer found, was 260,921: a decline of about 40,000. A 1980 survey had placed the Jewish population on Long Island at 400,000. At the same time, the number of Jews 65 and older has increased from 42,000 to 44,200.

"While that is not a major increase numerically, it is a substantial percentage increase: from 14 to 17 percent," said Mayer.

Taylor noted that the percentage of elderly Jews on the Island is disproportionately larger than their non-Jewish counterparts and that it appears to be increasing faster.

Taylor cited a national study that found that for every four Jews who move to Florida, one returns to be near family or to a location with a more extensive network of social services. But she said that detailed interviews with Jews on Long Island found that 85 percent believed there is a need for more services for the elderly.

Among the survey findings:

77 percent believed there was a need for more senior day-care programs and senior residences.

74 percent voiced a need for more elderly health care.

72 percent said there was a greater need for assisted living for the elderly.

59 percent expressed a need for better transportation to Jewish communal agencies.

It found also that the two community services most often used by elderly Jews on Long Island are emergency medical services and senior centers. And nearly 60 percent of elderly Jews surveyed said they had benefited from one or more community-based agencies in the past year. In addition, they said they most frequently needed help with the tasks of daily living, securing health-related services following an acute medical episode, and assistance in securing entitlements.

Altman pointed out that there are an increasing number of assisted living facilities on Long Island, some of which do not provide a wide range of services.

"The question is, how do we as a network relate to them?" she said. "The Jewish agencies are part of the UJA-Federation network that can be brought together as a system to look at these challenges and determine how best to respond to them."