Debrah Lee Charatan: A Pioneering Female Real Estate Mogul Gives to Causes in New York City

services for seniors in need is one focus on the Charatan/Holm Family Foundation. ginamcleanphoto/shutterstock

services for seniors in need is one focus on the Charatan/Holm Family Foundation. ginamcleanphoto/shutterstock

The Charatan/Holm Family Foundation aims to aid and grow charities that make a difference in New York City. Grantmaking focuses on the arts, Jewish causes, the elderly, disabled, youth care, and medical care. The charity was founded by veteran real estate entrepreneur Debrah Lee Charatan and lawyer Steven Holm.

Avid documentary watchers might have heard Charatan’s name before in connection with controversial real estate heir Robert Durst, as depicted in 2015’s The Jinx. The two married in 2000, but the current nature of their relationship, if any, is unclear. Charatan is a real estate titan in her own right, however. She served as founder and CEO of Bach Realty, which was led by an all-woman sales team, and is the founder and president of BCB Property Management Inc., a full-service, multifamily and mixed-use real estate firm whose portfolio includes more than 120 buildings and 1,800 apartments.

I recently spoke with Charatan to find out more about her philanthropy and the personal forces driving it.

For Charatan, her work in the community began with her business. She explains that when she started her company in 1980, “I only hired women. The idea was to help women make money, because women in those days just didn’t make money. What I did was start to hire women and train them regarding the real estate business in the hopes that they would become independent and could earn a good living. That was really when I started giving back.”

As far as the forces that inspired Charatan to start a philanthropic vehicle, she told me, simply, that she likes helping people. “I get people calling me up all the time saying they don’t have money. There are a lot of people out there, including older people who weren’t able to prepare well for their later years.” One of Charatan’s interests is supporting the elderly community.

To that end, Charatan is heavily involved with a New York City organization called Selfhelp Community Services, which promotes “independent living through a wide range of community-based services to seniors and other vulnerable New Yorkers.” She and Steven gave it at least $500,000 in 2017 alone, and have steadily supported Selfhelp through the years. Charatan was particularly drawn to the organization because it was deeply involved in the survivor community. Selfhelp roots stretch back to the 1930s, when it provided aid for people fleeing Europe to the United States. “People needed a place to live and a job, and Selfhelp stepped in,” she said.

Charatan also admires Selfhelp because of its multi-generational strength. “It’s an interesting organization in that there are people on the board whose parents were on the board.”

Charatan also supports the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Nearly 75 years after the Holocaust, many survivors are now in their 80s and 90s. The BBC documentary The Last Survivors, which premiered on Holocaust Memorial Day in January, highlights the important testimony of some of the world’s last survivors. Preserving that legacy is something Charatan is passionate about, saying, “I’ve gotten involved with the museum because all of the survivors are dying, and all that’s going to be left to their story is the museum.”

Away from Jewish causes and elderly care, the Charatan/Holm Family Foundation also has an interest in medical research, supporting organizations like the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, Caron Foundation, and the Kidney & Urology Foundation. Cancer, a key interest, has impacted the family.

The arts is another interest. In the past, Charatan was particularly involved with The Met and Central Park Conservancy, the nonprofit that raises tens of millions of dollars for Central Park, and is funded by many wealthy individual donors on Wall Street and beyond. Charatan speaks to the importance of this private funding. “What people don’t know is that most of the money for Central Park is raised privately. Yes, the city gives something, but not the majority. Every big city has a beautiful park, right? Our park is really spectacular. I run in Central Park, and want it to be beautiful and safe,” she says.

Charatan also says that Lincoln Center has a primary interest over the years. And in the realm of youth care, the foundation has supported places like Friendship Circle, which deals with special needs youth and their families, and Chai Lifeline. Charatan notes that many of these charities have strong roots in the Jewish community.

When I asked Charatan if the foundation considers organizations outside of New York, she told me that she’s open to that in some circumstances. For instance, she gives to Denver Hospital, but she knows people in New York who are involved with it. “Your friends often guide you to places they think are important.”

The Charatan/Holm Family Foundation encourages people to reach out on its website’s contact page. In a recent year, the foundation gave away around $300,000.