Robert Agus

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Robert Argus. Photo provided

Robert Agus, of Chevy Chase, died on Nov. 29. He was 74.

He lived in the Washington area for more than 66 years. Robert was devoted to the Washington Jewish community and was committed to learning. Rob was raised in Baltimore where his father, Rabbi Jacob Agus, led Beth El Congregation.


In Washington, he founded Fabrangen, a progressive Jewish community inspired by the Civil Rights movement, in 1970. Fabrangan was a pioneer in the Havurah movement, emphasizing participation and study, and popularizing new prayer melodies. Robert and fellow members created a holistic community that included music, arts, prayer, study, drug and Vietnam draft counseling. It led to the Washington Jewish Folk Arts Festival and the Jewish Renewal movement.

He was a highly accomplished man with focus in urban development, affordable housing and citizen and community empowerment. He was the founder and president of the National Housing Trust, president of Associates in Community Development, director of Neighborhood Revitalization for the National Center for Urban Affairs and director of housing policy for the Urban Institute.

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He refinanced and renovated large affordable housing properties in Shaw, D.C., developed affordable housing programs in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, and developed
affordable assisted living facilities.

His last project followed the Fabrangen model of offering residents both the power and the support needed to have the opportunity for them and their children to escape the poverty trap. Rob gave the residents the apartments and did so with them loaded with the appliances they needed.


He also created savings accounts where for each dollar the residents put in toward future post-secondary education for their children, a fund would contribute several more.

He also informed the design of the Low Income Tax Credit program and led the effort to allow the refinancing of Section 202 senior housing projects to renovate and develop housing for low-income seniors.

Robert was also the acting executive director for the United States Holocaust Museum from 1982 to 1983, and secured the site for the museum.

He is survived by his wife, Rochelle Helzner; his children, Jonah (Astrid) Agus and Jessica (Ben) Agus; granddaughter, Natalie Bregman; and by his siblings, Zalman (and Sondra) Agus, Edna (and Larry) Povich and Deborah (and Robert) Agus-Kleinman.

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