Build with Purpose is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving New Jersey’s communities and, in particular, providing affordable and safe senior housing with supportive services. The group started out as a real estate planning organization called Real Estate Advisory and Development Services (READS), and had as its purpose to help other organizations apply for grants and funding opportunities. It has since transitioned into a philanthropic endeavor that is fiscally, socially and environmentally sound. The group is taking abandoned buildings around the cities and shorelines and turning them into community homes for seniors who need assistance with meeting housing needs.
Two senior residence communities already making a difference
The demand for affordable senior housing is so high in New Jersey that it just can’t be met. Waiting lists are long, and many seniors either live poorly or with family caregivers who are struggling to make ends meet. Seeing the need for more affordable housing options, READS changed their name to Build with Purpose in 2013. They had found their niche with the first repurposed building located in River Edge-a former convent became the 23-unit community Senior Residence at St. Peter the Apostle. Here seniors aged 60 and over enjoy a safe environment, compassionate care, and services to improve their quality of life. Residents enjoy watching the children of St. Peter’s Elementary School play in the play yard that is visible from the residence, and Build with Purpose has partnered with Anthem Inc. and Rutgers Master Gardeners and Gardener’s Supply to make a therapeutic garden that residents can also enjoy and work in.
The residence maintains a 24-hour onsite staff, medication management, housekeeping, and private rooms. What is more, because the building is aged, it has classic features like high ceilings, hardwood floors, and a brick sun porch. At the same time, the kitchen and bathrooms have been modernized.
The convent was sitting empty and unused on the grounds of the St. Peter the Apostle Church. To repurpose it cost a little over $1 million; to build such a housing unit from scratch would have cost $5 million or more. So successful is the project that a Senior Residence at St. Matthews, modeled after St. Peters, will provide the same services and amenities, also at an affordable price.
Build with Purpose has big goals
Build with Purpose seeks to uphold their mission of using real estate for social change. By transforming abandoned buildings and renovating them to meet the needs of New Jersey senior citizens, including veterans, they preserve a part of community history and allow residents to have a safe place to call home at a very affordable price. They have already begun looking to abandoned motels and decommissioned school buildings as potential renovation projects. Build with Purpose’s current goal is to open 100 new units of affordable senior housing in the next 1000 days using New Jersey’s abandoned real estate, much of which is located in areas accessible to community amenities like shopping and events.
Build with Purpose has inspired other organizations to get involved. In the last few years, three Burlington County schools were renovated into buildings for elderly persons by another non-profit. Schools, convents and even motels (some along the Jersey Shore) make the best types of buildings to renovate because their layouts are already conducive to community living.
This type of strategy provides a number of solutions, not only to the state, but also to seniors and to their families, who may be struggling under the burden of caregiving. Family caregivers suffer from burnout and their own health issues that arise from neglecting their own well being. They also lose money with time away from work and picking up the tabs on their loved one’s personal expenses. One survey reports that a third of family caregivers spend 10k a year on caregiving expenses, with 46% spending at least 5k. The alternative-nursing homes or assisted living residences-are sometimes beyond people’s financial reach.
Aging in place is important to seniors and their families, and by providing renovated community homes with supportive services for New Jersey’s underserved residents, more independence is possible. Repurposing usable property adds value back into the community while it enriches the lives of those who live there.
Associated Press. (May 15, 2016). New Jersey Groups Convert Empty Buildings into Homes for Seniors. The New York Times. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/16/nyregion/new-jersey-groups-convert-empty-buildings-into-homes-for-seniors.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FElderly&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=5&pgtype=collection&_r=0. Last visited June 13, 2016.
Build with Purpose. Available at http://bwpurpose.org/. Last visited June 13, 2016.
Helmich, Nancy. (September 15, 2014). A Third of Family Caregivers Spend Over $10k a Year. USA Today. Available at http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/09/15/family-caregiving-time-costs/15456771/. Last visited June 13, 2016.