In 1980, when the idea of independent senior living was still in its infancy, Jewish Federation Plaza became one of the first facilities in northern New Jersey to offer the concept.
On Nov. 8, residents, staff and board members, and administrators gathered to celebrate the West Orange facility’s 30th birthday.
State and local politicians addressed the need for affordable senior housing and praised the work of the Jewish Community Housing Corporation, whose facility at 750 Northfield Ave. was the first of what has become a system of five senior living facilities in Essex County.
A formal ceremony took place in a reception room in the lower level of the facility, while other festivities were held on the fourth-floor residential promenade, including a tribute to residents who have lived at Federation Plaza for 20 years.
“We are honoring literally generations of residents who have been here,” said JCHC executive director Harold Colton-Max. “The residents and their families have been willing to share their lives with us.
“Hopefully, we’ve managed to improve their quality of life, because certainly they have done that for us.”
Joining in the events were U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-Dist. 8); Essex County Freeholder Pat Sebold; West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi; and Denise Johnson, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Newark program office director.
Carolyn Fefferman, senior adviser to Sen. Robert Menendez, also attended.
Sebold recalled the years her mother lived at Federation Plaza, while Parisi talked about cutting the lawn there as a teenager. He also remembered his frustration when his own parents had to move south to find an affordable place to live.
Pascrell spoke of frustration, too, in getting his colleagues to support affordable housing.
“I’ve always supported affordable housing,” said Pascrell. “I try to get my fellow congressmen to understand that we need to help build a lot of senior housing. We haven’t done it in a long, long time.”
He pointed out that while demographics show a rising need for affordable senior housing, Congress has not been quick to support it.
Asked, following his talk, if he has any concerns about further cutbacks in the wake of Republican gains on Election Day, Pascrell replied, “Sure I’m worried. They continue to say, ‘No.’ But they can’t prove the need doesn’t exist, because it does exist. And what’s their answer to the need? ‘Wait ’til the skies fall.’ But I don’t retreat one step.”
Federation Plaza was one of the first projects funded by Section 202, the federal legislation authorizing it. The bill provides affordable rental housing specifically for people over the age of 62 who have incomes under 50 percent of the area’s median income. Section 202 residences are built and run by private nonprofit groups that have received loan incentives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The JCHC, created in 1982, is a partner agency of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. It also runs Jewish Federation Towers in Irvington, the Lester Senior Housing Community in Whippany, the South Orange B’nai Brith Federation House, and Village Apartments of the Jewish Federation in South Orange.