Jewish Journal

Seniors Seek Loving Hands, Home

by David Finnigan

Posted on Nov. 10, 2005 at 7:00 pm

When Arden Realty Chairman and CEO Richard Ziman's elderly father was beginning to fade about 10 years ago, the father made a simple request.

"'If I begin to lose it, take me there,'" said the father, as recounted by his son. "'I will never be in better hands and with better people who will take better care of me.'"

Since 1912, those better hands have been at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging. The elder Ziman found peace there in his final days, which is one reason Richard Ziman's philanthropy continues to support the Reseda facility. Ziman, who chairs the Jewish Home's capital campaign, is quick to note that Jewish elders need much more affordable and age-appropriate housing. That same point will be made on Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Jewish Home's fifth annual Celebration of Life fundraiser. "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno will headline the event.

This elder-housing shortfall was underscored ironically by some positive news this fall -- the September dedication of a single-family house for four residents. The converted home will join 13 nearby properties for independent-living seniors. The conversion, overseen by San Fernando Valley-based Montage Development, involved adding 800 square feet -- expanding the house from two to four bedrooms -- constructing an entry ramp and installing special knobs on all doors and cabinets.

As nice as it is, however, the refurbished home resolves the housing shortage for just four senior citizens. Ziman said that 20,000 to 35,000 additional units are needed for the Jewish elderly of greater L.A. and that some 5,000 to 7,000 units are acutely needed.

Apart from the Jewish Home, other subsidized housing for Jewish seniors includes the eight-story Fairfax Towers, just above the Fairfax-Santa Monica Boulevard intersection near West Hollywood. The 150-unit building is home to about 200 elderly Russian Jews.

Across the Los Angeles basin and the San Fernando Valley, another 14 buildings, with a combined 950 units, serve Jewish and non-Jewish seniors through the nonprofit Menorah Foundation, which is funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Altogether it's not nearly enough, said Stanley Treitel, executive director of the United Housing and Community Services Corp., which runs the Fairfax Towers. "Right now seniors are living in other types of senior housing or they live by themselves or they live in rent-controlled apartments."

Much of the need, Treitel said, is for affordable, assisted-living facilities or for places that allow seniors to transition from independent to assisted living.

"When people age in place," he said, "they need to move from independent living to assisted living."

The Jewish Home is trying to develop along those lines with its Alzheimer's/dementia unit. Of course, not every Jewish senior wants a facility that is particularly focused on Jews, but many seniors feel especially comfortable in such a place. And these facilities incorporate knowledge of Jewish culture and religious practices into the way they operate.

Creating any kind of senior housing has become especially difficult in Southern California's exploding real estate market, where developers prefer more profitable projects.

"There's no money in it," said Yolande Erickson, a staff attorney at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, where 80 percent of her clients are elderly. "Real estate is too valuable today. Anybody buying a building would want to get rid of the low-paying tenants."

The Jewish Home can care for 1,000 residents at its Reseda nursing care facilities, two on-campus villages and nearby homes in the surrounding neighborhood. Currently there are about 400 residents in nursing care and another 400 in the residential units, said Jewish Home CEO Molly Forrest. Another 370 people are on the home's two-to-three-year waiting list, of which about 239 are likely to be accommodated within the next year.

"We could easily double our size and just begin to address ... the plight of seniors needing secure housing," Forrest said.

Despite having a Westside funding base through its active, 2,500-member donor group, The Guardians, the nonprofit Jewish Home operates with an annual "multimillion dollar" budget shortfall, said Ziman, who has a ready pitch for potential donors.

"It's part of the Fifth Commandment -- 'Honor Thy Father and Mother,'" Ziman said. "There is a woefully deficient number of residential units for the aging Jewish population. Most people aren't aware that [so much of] that population is either impoverished or has significant food, shelter and basic necessity needs."

Celebration of Life -- Reflections: 2005 will take place in the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland. Tickets are $350. For information, call Corey Slavin at (818) 774-3031 or corey.slavin@jha.org.


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