Twenty-three years ago, Ellen Jarrett, arrived at CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc., an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, to help the organization develop affordable senior housing. The organization had recently commissioned a study which determined a need for 1,500 units in Northwest Baltimore.
Ellen, who had recently received her Masters in Real Estate Development from Johns Hopkins University, and had some background working at HUD, brought knowledge on the development process to make this dream a reality. The first project she worked on for CHAI was Weinberg House, which opened 20 years ago.
From the beginning, it was a huge success. “I’ll never forget opening our first senior living community. I remember we had 1,000 applications for only 116 units. The northwest community hadn’t seen anything like this project. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
Since then, Ellen has been involved with the development of CHAI’s 16 affordable senior housing projects. We talked to Ellen about her role at CHAI and how senior housing has evolved in the past two decades.
Tell me about Weinberg House.
We wanted to provide state-of-the-art senior housing in the Jewish community. The first project we built was Weinberg House, 116 units for seniors, located near the Giant in Pikesville. We wanted to include technology so that individuals could live there as long as possible.
CHAI decided to offer a number of amenities to enable “aging in place” including implementing a congregate meal program and hiring staff to link residents to outside services. In the design of the building we decided to build public spaces so residents could socialize, and we put in showers even though that was not the trend in senior housing at the time. But we understood that having showers would make it easier for these individuals to age in place and be safe.
We also used BG&E incentives to make the project energy efficient, even before green was popular.
What else made Weinberg House special?
This was an apartment building for low-income seniors that didn’t look low income. They felt as if they were living in a market rate apartment building.
After Weinberg House, what were your next projects?
CHAI began to build senior living facilities every two years. We built Weinberg Terrace, Weinberg Woods and Weinberg Gardens. We knew, overall, we needed 1,600 units, but one of our primary sources of funding – funding from the HUD 202 program – was decreasing, which resulted in us having to build smaller projects, with fewer units. We were fortunate. CHAI developed a partnership with the Weinberg Foundation, , and we were able to secure funding from them as well as from the State of Maryland, Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
Weinberg Village in Owings Mills?
We built five apartment buildings on the Owings Mills campus and we tweaked the design from some of our previous projects. We realized that it would be more appealing if we opened up the kitchen and living/dining area. We added green technologies and gave seniors pendants to wear to keep them safe. As technology became more efficient, we were able to add such things as video entrance systems.
I see CHAI was involved with a project outside its core market.
Yes. Last winter, in a partnership with Park Heights Renaissance, we opened Jean Yarborough Renaissance Gardens, a 60-unit independent living apartment complex for limited income seniors. It was the area’s first new construction project in over 10 years. Although not in our core neighborhood, we believe it’s important to focus on the neighborhoods around us. If they are strong, we are strong.
Weinberg Manor South, a 90-unit facility for low-income seniors, located in Upper Park Heights, opens this winter. We’re also beginning to develop small-scale housing for people with disabilities, buying existing homes and renovating them for- three people. And, CHAI is continuing to investigate ways to create affordable family housing in the area. We recently purchased a small complex of 13 units which we intend to renovate and preserve as affordable housing for families in our core service area.
What have you learned?
You never stop learning in this industry. Change continues with government funding and regulations. We’ve learned how to look for other sources of funding and partnerships as federal government money dried up.
In addition, we learned to look at each project separately to determine what would make them most effective for seniors. Some, like Weinberg House, have a grocery store nearby, so we didn’t have to worry about transportation. When we built others, like Weinberg Village, we realized we needed to build a transportation program.
Learn more about Weinberg Senior Living.