B’nai B’rith Federation House celebrates 25th anniversary in South Orange

Photo by Amanda Valentovic
Harold Colton-Max, CEO of the Jewish Community Housing Corporation of Metropolitan New Jersey, speaks at the Dec. 11 South Orange Board of Trustees meeting about the 25th anniversary of the B’nai B’rith Federation House.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The B’nai B’rith Federation House celebrated its 25th anniversary at the Dec. 11 South Orange Board of Trustees meeting, with residents and employees filling the seats of the South Orange Performing Arts Center.

Owned by the Jewish Community Housing Corporation of Metropolitan New Jersey, the building houses seniors in need of affordable housing, and has now been going strong for a quarter of a century. The party continued with guest speakers, including Essex County Freeholder Patricia Sebold, at the celebration for the residents that followed the meeting.

South Orange Village President Sheena Collum opened the meeting by acknowledging the contributions of JCHC CEO Harold Colton-Max to the community.

“We know Harold to be a very gracious person,” Collum said. “His taking on a leadership role has an effect on the residents who are here, and we know Harold to be a dedicated villager.”

Colton-Max also took to the podium at the meeting, thanking the BOT for their support over the years. “Given the support … it was fitting to be here tonight,” he said, mentioning that the senior residents have made the biggest contributions to where they live.

“What’s important is that this is being done for seniors by seniors. We look forward to continue working with the Board of Trustees for all of the residents in South Orange Village.”

The B’nai B’rith house provides low income senior citizens and disabled residents with affordable housing. According to Colton-Max, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is facing problems that affect those in need of affordable housing. Citing an example, Colton-Max said that the B’nai B’rith house has a waiting list that is three years long.

The benefits for those who do live there, though, are life-changing. The CEO described one woman who had lived in South Orange and was able to stay in her hometown because of the affordable housing complex.

“She lived in this town for 30 years, so for her to be able to stay was a godsend,” Colton-Max said in an interview with the News-Record at the event. “It’s there to help those people, the ones who want to stay near their families, or those who have lived in the area before and want to move back.”

Colton-Max also discussed other services the JCHC provides for its residents, saying that “it’s not enough to just be landlords.” In addition to supplying a place to live, the organization also gives senior citizens transportation and entertainment options, to make them feel at home.

Brian Saltzman, president of the JCHC Board of Trustees, echoed Colton-Max’s sentiment about being more than just a landlord to the residents in a Dec. 15 phone interview with the News-Record.

“We’re not landlords, and we’re committed to providing that,” Saltzman said, saying that it is comforting to see a complex like the B’nai B’rith house operating for so long.

“It’s gratifying. Seniors make up a great portion of the community, and to see 25 years of a healthy and updated house taking care of the most important part of the community is great,” he added.

According to Colton-Max, the JCHC is always looking to establish more housing in addition to the buildings the group already owns, but the process presents its own challenges. A building on Vose Avenue in South Orange is about to open with 12 units, but more are needed.

“We’re looking to do more development, but there is not a tremendous amount of land available,” he said. “But we are looking at more development.”

Saltzman agreed, citing the longer life expectancy of seniors now.

“People are living longer and healthier,” he said. “Our median age used to be in the 70s, but now it’s in the mid-80s. We can step up our game in services; there’s a greater need for memory services, so there are questions around what’s changing. (Affordable housing) continues to evolve, and we need more of it.”