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Stimulus Bill to Fund New Senior Housing in Elkins Park

October 29, 2009 By:
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A rendering of the 85-apartment residence that Federation Housing Inc. plans to build for senior citizens.

For Federation Housing Inc., the third time proved the charm.

The organization -- a separate 501(c)(3) that was originally started by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and still provides grants for programs there -- had twice applied for money from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, a state entity. The goal was to help fund the construction of new, low-income senior housing in Elkins Park. Twice, it was turned down.

But this time, the difference proved to be the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the federal stimulus bill. The state agency was able to provide Federation Housing with $8.1 million.

The grant may represent the largest boost a local Jewish agency has gotten from the $787 billion stimulus bill, though at least three others have gotten dollars as well, including JEVS Human Services.

So far, the federal government has spent a total of $120 billion of the stimulus funds.

Robert Tabas, president of Federation Housing's board, said of the proposed building in Elkins Park: "The federal stimulus dollars made it happen. It made it all come together. The fact that we've gotten this project approved and funded during these times, it shows that affordable housing and the nonprofit sector is well and vital."

Federation Housing is planning in late winter or early spring to begin construction on the 85-unit, $15 million building on a five-acre site on Ashbourne Road.

Formerly the home of the Wordsworth Academy, a private school, the property was briefly owned by Congregation Kol Ami, which ultimately decided not to stay there and sold the land to Federation Housing.

The project -- which is meant to attract residents from the entire Old York Road corridor and not just the immediate neighborhood -- is also being paid for with other government funding, tax credits and private donations.

The Pennsylvania housing agency was allocated a total of $95 million from the stimulus package to help spur new construction of affordable housing units. The economic slowdown has made it difficult to attract private investment in such projects, even with the existing tax credits available for development of apartments priced below the market rate.

For JEVS Human Services, the stimulus money means it will be able to offer more low-income individuals the chance to develop vital career skills at little to no cost. The agency has so far been allocated a total of $723,000 in two stimulus grants to provide free tuition to low-income students for several of its job-training programs.

"This is the perfect opportunity for somebody who has been laid off," said its chief operating officer of employment and training, Gail Zukerman.

And Some Money for Food Relief

On a much smaller scale, Federation's Mitzvah Food Project has received $4,000 in stimulus funds for food vouchers. The Jewish Relief Agency also got $6,800 specifically to assist needy families in Bucks County.

Amy Krulik, executive director of JRA, said that she'd considered applying for more federal dollars, but that the reporting requirements were just too much for a two-person staff to accommodate. Krulik claimed that many smaller organizations decided it was more trouble than it was worth to apply for such funds.

"It's frustrating to me. This is a time when JRA is getting more and more requests for support," said Krulik. "I would love to have additional money, but it comes with too high a price tag in terms of the labor."

For Federation Housing -- a 40-year-old agency that operates nine buildings with roughly 1,500 occupants -- the Elkins Park building represents its first venture outside of the Northeast. It's also the agency's first new building since 2005, when it opened a 45-unit facility, the Evelyn and Daniel M. Tabas House, adjacent to the JCC Klein Branch.

Residents at Federation Housing have to be at least 62 years of age to live there. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidizes about 70 percent of the cost of each person's rent. The units are open to people of all religions and backgrounds.

Federation Housing employs a rabbi, and offers a host of religious and communal activities, as well as one meal per day.

All of the existing buildings have waiting lists, according to Eric Naftulin, executive director of the agency, although the primary purpose of this building is not serve people already on waiting lists, he said.

In 2006, the agency purchased the Elkins Park property for $1.7 million -- the first time that it had ever bought a property, rather than acquiring one through donation.

"We are following the trend and migration in the Jewish community," said Naftulin.

He explained that Elkins Park was chosen because of its proximity to Gratz College and several area synagogues. Naftulin said that the building could also attract residents from throughout the northern suburbs.

According to Alan Glickman, who directs research at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and is working on a book on the Jewish elderly, many seniors in inner-ring suburbs like Melrose Park and Elkins Park (part of Cheltenham Township) could benefit from housing priced well below market value.

The goal is to keep residents in their own communities, where they have strong ties, he said.

"There is an absolutely critical need for affordable housing in the Jewish community and in the city as a whole," said Glickman, who also sits on the committee overseeing the new Jewish population survey that is in the works. "That whole Old York Road corridor is aging."

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