Brith Sholom House, Senior Housing with Jewish Roots, Declares Bankruptcy

2
Brith Sholom House in West Philadelphia. Courtesy of Google Street View

Founded in 1905 in Philadelphia, Independent Order Brith Sholom was a Jewish fraternal organization for men to gather and invest in charitable efforts.

Largely made up of Russian Jewish immigrants, hundreds of lodges, or chapters of the organization, popped up over the country by the mid-1900s, according to Philadelphia Jewish historian Michael Schatz.

Among those charitable efforts was the Brith Sholom House, erected 55 years ago at 3939 Conshohocken Ave. in West Philadelphia under the auspices of the Brith Sholom Foundation. The multiunit housing development was home to mostly senior citizens on a fixed income, Jewish and non-Jewish.


As of 2023, Brith Sholom House continued to put a roof over the heads of hundreds of tenants in its 358-unit building, but the future of the space is now in question. Brith Sholom Winit LP, owner of Brith Sholom House, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this month after years of tenant complaints about the building’s living conditions.

According to the bankruptcy petition, Brith Sholom House had $0 to $50,000 in assets and $10 million to $50 million in liabilities, and New World Commercial Credit, the building lender, is owed $28.4 million, the Philadelphia Business Journal reported on Aug. 3.

In 2023, Brith Sholom House was cited for 14 violations by the Department of Licenses and Inspection, including for pest infestations and roof drainage issues, the PBJ reported. The building failed three inspections.

The building has been in disrepair for years. In November 2019, there was no hot water in the building and no working sprinklers in the building’s fire suppression system. Since 2020, there have been multiple fires in the building. During a January 2020 fire, a tenant carried his elderly mother down 10 flights of stairs.

Despite losing a rental license due to code violations, Brith Sholom Winit continued to charge rent, resulting in tenants protesting and petitioning.

The Court of Common Pleas later determined that residents did not need to pay rent to Brith Sholom Winit until the building’s fire suppression system was brought to code compliance, the Philadelphia Tribune reported. In February 2020, the Public Interest Law Center represented two tenants who petitioned Brith Sholom Winit.

“Obviously, the fires were traumatic and really difficult for the residents of Brith Sholom to get through,” said Public Interest Law Center staff attorney Mary Beth Schluckebier, who worked on the Brith Sholom House case. “But you can imagine how catastrophic it could have been in a building like that, with tenants like that, without the proper fire suppression system in place.”

Brith Sholom House’s fire suppression system had been broken since 2009, when the building was still owned by the Brith Sholom Foundation. The foundation sold the building to Brith Sholom Winit in 2012. They were no longer able to afford to maintain the building following what Victor Rubinson, former Brith Sholom vice president and past president of the Cherry Hill, New Jersey Brith Sholom chapter, called “mismanagement.”

Rubinson served as Brith Sholom vice president around the time of the building’s 2012 sale.

“It’s extremely sad,” Rubinson said. “And I’m sad, upset, pissed off. Name an emotion.”
Brith Sholom House is one instance in a growing pattern of challenges to fixed-income housing in Philadelphia and the United States.

“Generally speaking in Philadelphia, we have an aging housing stock, so there are a lot of habitability issues, lots of repair issues that come up,” Schluckebier said.
When a developer buys a multiunit property for affordable housing, they often initially invest lots of capital with the help of federal tax credits, obligating them to keep rent stable. But over time, without consistent investment to maintain the building, along with building mismanagement and loss of rental licenses and rent revenue, buildings fall into disrepair.

Tax credit programs to buoy building funding are competitive in Pennsylvania, due to the high demand for affordable housing. In instances of a building owner declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy, there is usually an effort to find a new buyer for the building with enough capital to repair and maintain it.

This is what happened in 2012, when Brith Sholom Winit bought the building, according to Rubinson. He recalled that under the Brith Sholom Foundation’s auspices, members of the fraternal organization received discounts. Today, tenants of the house are predominantly Black, though it continues to serve mostly senior citizens.

A property manager for a contractor, Rubinson is familiar with the difficulties multiunit building owners face. He rued the loss of Brith Sholom House from the foundation, wishing that they continued to own the building.

“We could have been helping the elderly community,” he said.

Sasha Rogelberg is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Brith Sholom Foundation, supported by The National Order of Brith Sholom and it’s lodges as well as other independent donors, was no longer the owners of this property as of 2012 when bought by company doing business as Brith Sholom Winit LP, and as such had no influence on the property’s operations, upkeep, or Managment style. Former Cherry Hill Lodge President Victor Rubinson was not in a position to be able to offer any qualified comments on the reason for the sale of the property in 2012 by Brith Sholom Foundation.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here