Local | Senior Lifestyle

Board helps Strauss Manor offer locals more than low cost

At her apartment at Strauss Manor on Pantano, Margaret Hensley shows off her genealogy dating back to the 700s. (Debe Campbell/AJP)
The Gerd & Inge Strauss Manor on Pantano for low-income senior residents has a long waiting list.

The Gerd & Inge Strauss Manor on Pantano is one of two B’nai Brith affordable housing communities for seniors in Arizona. Both are in Tucson, the other being the better-known Covenant House. Managed by Biltmore Properties, the communities come under B’nai B’rith’s advocacy umbrella as the largest national Jewish sponsor of housing for the elderly, government-subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD funding requires a sponsoring agency, which is where B’nai B’rith comes in. Its first housing partnership with HUD was in 1971. Now with 38 buildings in 28 communities, it the largest Jewish sponsor of subsidized housing in the United States. B’nai B’rith Senior Housing provides seniors with quality, affordable housing in a secure, supportive community environment, without regard to religion, race or national origin, to maximize their independent and dignified lifestyle. B’nai B’rith provides benefits to management and the board through training, contract monitoring, and advocacy.

The Strausses, both Holocaust survivors who immigrated to this country after World War II, took an active role in senior housing from the 1970s and were responsible for hundreds of apartment units across the country for low-income seniors. They moved to Tucson in 1986, founding Covenant House in 1995 and the Manor in 2006. After Inge died in 2003, Gerd continued to seek federal funding to develop more apartments in Tucson. He died in 2009 at age 90.

The Manor on Pantano looks more like a gracious retirement community than low-income apartments. “The common areas are charming and sophisticated … beautiful design and high-end style can be done even on a limited budget,” says local designer Amy Sandler Stuchen, who created the interiors.

With 80 one-bedroom apartments, Strauss Manor is small and unique among affordable housing communities in Tucson for several reasons, says Bonnie Dombrowski, the manor’s board president. The fact that it has a board of directors is one of them. Having a board and separate professional management means the board is not dealing with day-to-day issues. “The board oversees the management company and resident services,” another unique aspect of the units, she adds. It is the board, not HUD, which provides funding to enable a full calendar of daily activities for residents. The board raises other needed funds primarily through the Arizona Charitable Tax Credit and personal appeals.

Resident services coordinator Luz Gallego is part-client services, part-social worker, and part-activities director. As a hands-on coordinator, Gallego is quick to identify issues and problems, such as resident difficulties or reaching a limit of independence. “This is not an assisted living facility,” explains Theresa Beaty, the property manager. “It is a ‘house setting’ as there is a push from HUD for residents to stay in homes longer, or as long as they can. It’s our job to care for the building and the residents as much as we can and be responsible to the board for funding. Any profit goes back into the building,” she notes, which is why the premises are in tip-top shape.

Previously a case manager for Arizona Department of Child Safety and Catholic Community Services, Gallego says she has visited a lot of HUD buildings. “They typically are quiet, dark, and isolated, without a reception area, security, or activities,” she says.

At Strauss Manor, there are daily, weekly, monthly, and holiday activities along with frequent arts and crafts classes in sewing, knitting and crocheting, and painting. A part-time wellness director oversees the fitness center that is fully equipped with high-end exercise equipment purchased with grant funds. Residents have free access to wellness classes geared to seniors and the center is open 24/7. A library and computer room also are available around the clock.

Board member Joyce DeVoss, Ph.D., soon will be coordinating a program with her educational psychology graduate students from Northern Arizona University to provide free counseling services directly to residents in their apartments. The complex provides vision and hearing impairment modifications to apartment units and has handicap accessible units. There are food and personal hygiene pantries, stocked through donations or the board.

The security-access central lobby has a homey atmosphere with overstuffed leather chairs and a fireplace. The community coffee room with a pool table is a gathering point to stop off for a visit as residents go about their daily routines, checking their mail, taking trash to a central indoor location, or visiting the laundry facility. “It’s an extension of their home, outside of their apartment. It’s their home and we make it look like it,” says Marilyn Thompson, Biltmore’s regional property supervisor.

“Many of the residents don’t have family and this is their community,” says Dombrowski. “The staff really cares about the people. We work as a collaborative team. And residents create their own buddy system.” Residents volunteer to coordinate movie nights, coffee times, meal events, holiday and birthday parties, classes, and welcoming new residents.

Community volunteers donate items including food, medical equipment, clothing, furniture, small appliances, personal hygiene items, computers, art supplies, books, videos, and pet food assistance, and also help by teaching classes, providing entertainment, and installing holiday décor.

Unfortunately, for those who’d like to reside at Strauss Manor, there are 115 on the active waiting list. It takes on average two years and four months to get accepted, says Beaty. “The criteria to get on the list is simple: Gross annual income of no more than $22,400 single or $25,600 for a couple, and the head of household must be 62 years or older. Prior to move-in residents are screened for evictions, past due rent, and criminal or sex offender records. If you qualify to get in, you’re in. Rent is approximately 30% of adjusted gross income, which takes into account medical expenses. It’s an allowable medical expense for residents to have caregivers. Residents can have other assets. The lowest rent paid now is $190 and the highest is $500, with the average resident income of $12,000 to $13,000, and average resident age is 77.”

For more information, to schedule a tour of the facility, or to apply, contact Beaty at 722-9015, smmgr1@qwestoffice.net, or go to www.straussmanor.org.