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Reflecting on Shillman House Application Days

Posted: December 14, 2010

We just completed four very full days in Framingham.  After almost nine years of development challenges, the light at the end of the tunnel is visible and we were feeling the reward—we had the opportunity to meet some of the people who will call Shillman House home as early as June 2011. How thrilling!   The Morton and Etta Shillman House on the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Campus is our latest supportive housing development—150 units of mixed-income housing in Framingham. We offered four “Shillman House Application Days” with 44 staff, board and board committee members on hand to support older adults as they filled out applications for housing.

As I sat at the greeter’s table at Sunday’s Shillman House Application Day, I watched the people who entered the room and those of us from JCHE who were there to meet them.  Everyone came with their story—and we were pleased to listen to them all.  We were ready.  We had anticipated that many coming through the doors would feel nervous.  While filling in any application is rarely painless, an application for housing is inherently anxiety provoking—it marks a significant change and change is stressful at any age.  Anticipating a move generates a series of doubts and to-do lists.  The physical act of packing is exhausting.  With a limited number of apartments, wondering whether an apartment will be available adds a significant level of worry.  With these concerns in mind, we were mindful as we set up the Application Days to create an experience that would be welcoming, informative and efficient—even haimish.

From our perspective, we could have simplified the process enormously by holding the Application Days in our administrative offices in Brighton.  It would have been more convenient for staff.  We would have been within easy reach of the supplies necessary to fill out rental applications: staplers, folders, computers, copy machines and the like. 

Yet, that’s not how we do business at JCHE.  Our primary goal is to build a solid community at Shillman House as we have at all of our buildings, and that begins when the prospective residents arrive to seek applications.  So, we brought the staplers, folders, computers and even the copier to two Framingham locations within proximity to the Shillman construction site.

We went further. We made ourselves available for a total of 34 hours across the four days so that prospects and their families could stop in when their schedules allowed.  We brought enough staff so that we could offer each attendee as much one-on-one time as was needed to complete the complicated applications.  Our staffing included those who speak Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin and Cantonese to minimize language barriers.  We had our JCHE wheelchair-accessible van available to meet the local Framingham bus to ensure that transportation was fully offered.  We decorated the room with photos and story boards to offer visitors a glimpse of life at JCHE.  And, of course, we had a steady supply of coffee, tea and homemade chocolate chip cookies to sweeten the process.

Our preparations had an impact.  There was a sense of calm in the room although many arrived with some degree of uncertainty.  Relationships among attendees and staff were formed.  Many expressed their gratitude -- and some relief -- when they were done.

I think about some of the stories we heard over the past few days.  There were multiple situations where the rent in current housing far exceeds the monthly Social Security check.  We spoke with caring sons and daughters whose parents live elsewhere,  It was evident that the stress in their lives would be reduced if their parent lived closer.  We met several people who are in the early stages of the decision process.  They understand that a move to a supportive community could make sense, but are weighing whether this is really the right time.   Even those who are certain about the decision have a stream of questions: What will it be like to live at Shillman House? Who is going to be my new neighbor?  Am I going to find people who share my interests?  Will my furniture fit?  And, of course, the most pressing question: Will I get in?  Those seeking an income-restricted apartment will be part of a lottery in February.

At the Application Days, we answered all the questions that had a definitive response, and offered support and insight for all others. I felt so proud to be associated with every staff and board member that was there—they were prepared, thoughtful and kind.


The occupancy of Shillman House is a process and we are hopeful that we were able to offer valuable information and needed reassurance along with the homemade chocolate chip cookies. 

As always, I welcome your comments.  Click here to send me an email.


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