ELKINS PARK, PA.—For Federation Housing, Inc., finding the perfect location and receiving the single largest donation in its 40-year history made all the difference in building its first new housing project since 2005 and its first project outside of Philadelphia's city limits.
The Philadelphia nonprofit created a strategic plan in 2005, with a focus on finding the right location in Montgomery or Bucks counties to build its next affordable housing development instead of in Philadelphia, where the types of properties it owns and operates were already saturated.
In 2007, the right parcel in Montgomery County presented itself— a 5.2-acre site that formerly had been the Wordsworth Academy School. It was everything the nonprofit wanted: close to public transportation and shopping and across the street from an education campus with a college, Jewish day school, and synagogue, which is ideal for providing educational opportunities and intergenerational activities for the future seniors living at the project. Also, many of the residents in the higher- end, older neighborhood in this suburban county northwest of Philadelphia were struggling with the upkeep of their larger homes and turned to Federation Housing because they didn't want to leave their community.
“The community didn't have any other affordable housing opportunities like this,” says Eric Naftulin, executive director of Federation Housing. “It was an unmet need, and we wanted to come in and help this community."
However, the nonprofit faced some local opposition, and it took three years to get through land planning and zoning. Federation Housing persevered by taking community members on tours of its existing properties and finally convincing them that its buildings are clean and safe. The development finally received approval in 2010.
But NIMBYism wasn't the only roadblock for the 85-unit seniors development. Even though the approximately $20 million development received $7.5 million in Tax Credit Assistance Program funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a $2.5 million grant from the Montgomery County Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and $6 million in low-income housing tax credit equity from The Richman Group Affordable Housing Corp., there still was a financing gap.
The Daniel B. and Florence E. Green Family Foundation and the familyowned Firstrust Bank came to the rescue with a $3 million donation, the largest gift in the nonprofit's history.
“We would not have a project if we didn't have the $3 million donation from The Daniel B. and Florence E. Green Family Foundation. Those were the final dollars to make this deal happen," Naftulin says, adding that the Green family has been a strong supporter of Federation Housing since its inception.
Daniel Green, chairman of Firstrust, was instrumental in the founding of the nonprofit and served on the board of directors for many years. Now his son, Firstrust CEO and Vice Chairman Richard J. Green, serves on the board.
The project will be named after Daniel's father and Firstrust founder Samuel A. Green.
The Samuel A. Green House, which is slated for completion this month, will serve seniors 62 and older earning between 20 percent and 60 percent of the area median income and will have a strong focus on helping the residents to socialize in a safe environment.
“We do a lot to get the residents out of their apartments and into the community to socialize,” says Naftulin. “We made affordable housing something that isn't just a roof and four walls. It's really a community with all the bells and whistles and services that you could want."
Federation Housing employs an activities coordinator, who plans programs from ceramics to knitting blankets for cancer patients, as well as a chaplain, who facilitates educational discussions and provides counseling and support. It also offers a host of services, including free transportation to and from shops and doctors' appointments; subsidized housecleaning services; Jewish-infused programs such as a Passover seder and a Hanukkah celebration; and a congregate meal program where a boxed lunch or a hot meal is provided to the residents for $1.
The building provides residents with ample space outside their onebedroom units, including a community room with a fireplace, a covered patio, a beauty salon, a wellness/exercise room, a media room, a chapel, and nooks on each floor with seating for residents to gather. Outdoors, there will be a wheelchair- accessible gazebo, walking paths, raised flower beds, and gardens where residents can grow vegetables.
The three-story building is specially designed to accommodate the needs of seniors, with two elevators to help residents get around. Ten percent of the units will be fully wheelchair accessible, and two apartments will be equipped with devices for hearing and visually impaired residents. Another helpful amenity for the seniors—dishwashers in every unit.
“We do our best to enhance the quality of life of our residents,” Naftulin says.
Naftulin, who has been with Federation Housing for 21 years and as executive director for seven years, says he's most proud of the design of the building.
Beautiful stone from the former school buildings that were demolished to make way for the Samuel A. Green House was recycled and reused to create a stone perimeter wall around the campus. Other green features include solar panels to heat domestic hot water and rainwater collection barrels that will be used to irrigate the gardens.