Some senior adults living in and around Boston face a major life dilemma nowadays, especially when they retire and are on a fixed income: they have to choose between paying for heat, for food or for rent.
That’s what 2Life Communities is working to change. The nonprofit is on a mission to help senior adults live in affordable housing in the Greater Boston area, with over 1,300 units and hundreds more in planning and construction stages, as demographic shifts leave more older Americans burdened by housing costs.
Amy Schectman, president and CEO of 2Life Communities, said 2Life does more than just provide housing for middle- and low-income senior adults.
“We’re dedicated to the proposition that every older adult should have the opportunity to live a full life of connection and purpose in a dynamic, supportive environment,” she said.
The organization’s mission brings together a community of people from all backgrounds and cultures.
84-year-old Jules Gordon is a tenant at 2Life’s Brighton campus. He moved into an apartment in the Weinberg Building in 2019, and he said he loves it. As a retired engineer, Gordon likes to watch all the construction that’s happening outside the 2Life buildings.
“It’s nice,” he said. “And as silly as it sounds and as simple as it sounds, when I come back to my room and everything, it's just very nice. It’s like home.”
A major demographic shift is underway in the United States as the baby-boomer generation ages. By 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 years old or over, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But Schectman said only a third of older adults who qualify for subsidized housing actually receive it nationwide. The remainder, as found by Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, are “housing cost burdened,” Schectman said, “meaning they’re spending an inadequate [amount on] money on food and medicine.”
Currently, 2Life Communities has 1,340 affordable apartments on six different campuses in the Greater Boston area, including Newton and Framingham, and they’re looking to build another campus in Lynn.
“We have 210 more apartments under construction right now, as we’re speaking,” Schectman said, “And another 400 in the immediate pipeline. So, we’re expanding at a rapid pace because the need is almost infinite.”
Tenants at 2Life are selected through a lottery system, and the waitlist is long.
“Keep in mind, most people are in their late 70s, early 80s on that waiting list. You can do the math yourself. More people will die waiting to get in, and that is a social justice horror show,” Schectman said.
Tenant Darryl Smith won an apartment in the lottery three years ago, and he is thrilled.
“Oh man, I’m jumping for joy,” he said.
Smith, who is in his 70s, said coming from a shelter to live at 2Life has made a big difference. He has fewer worries, he said.
2Life was formed in 1965, and back then it was called Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly. Schectman said the new name is meant to convey a sense of joyous aging, and it comes from a traditional Jewish or Hebrew toast: “L’Chaim,” which means “to life.”
One of the things tenants said they like about the living situation is the diversity. Resident speak a plethora of languages, and there are lots of people from the Boston area, of course, but many are immigrants, representing countries such as China, Ukraine and Belarus.
When it comes to fundraising to keep the organization financially healthy, Schectman said the holidays are an important time.
“The end of the year is a big time of giving,” she said. “And let me be clear, we can’t do what we do without philanthropy. We are 100% dependent because we believe you can’t chintz out on services and programs.”
The median annual household income among residents is $12,078, according to Schectman. But even with federal subsidies and tax credits, she said partnerships with businesses like Dellbrook Construction are needed.
Dellbrook’s CEO Michael Fish said he understands the need for organizations like 2Life Communities.
“The fact that they’re expanding and growing tremendously is not surprising whatsoever, and it’s incredibly necessary given the state we are in and the need for affordable housing for seniors,” Fish said.
And tenants like Darryl Smith feel a lot of gratitude for having a newfound home.
“I’ve got friends now that you can go right to,” he said, noting the sense of community. “If you have any kind of problem, they’ll walk with you, and everybody’s smiling.”
This is the third of four stories this holiday season in the GBH News’ series "The Holidays, A Time for Charity,” profiling local nonprofits making a difference in the lives of families across the state.