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Photo of Lori McGeeThe Need for LGBTQ-Inclusive Housing and Culturally Responsive Training

Author: Julia Mauk, Board Member, Rainbow Elder Care of Greater Dayton

Secure, stable, and affordable housing is a necessary component for healthy aging for all. For LGBTQ adults who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, safe homes are especially important. Their experience of living through a time when living openly was not the norm and being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer was often misunderstood or worse. This led to harassment in their daily lives and the need for safety at home became essential. Currently, more than 2.7 million people over the age of 50 identify as LGBTQ, and their need for low- and moderate- income housing is significant. In February 2011, the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Community Center did a study and found that, while the majority of those polled wished to remain in their own homes as they retired and aged, if that were to no longer be an option, 90% preferred LGBTQ-specific housing, and 94% preferred living alongside other LGBTQ adults.

Seeing this need, advocates, non-profits, and municipalities have begun to create LGBTQ-supportive housing across the country. Triangle Square, located in Los Angeles, CA, was the first affordable housing complex in the nation focusing on the needs of LGBTQ members. It was developed by McCormack Baron and opened in June 2007 and serves a population age 62 and over. It works in conjunction with the Los Angeles LGBT Center for Senior Services to provide recreational, community, and health services to its residents.

A few years later, complexes in Chicago, IL and Philadelphia, PA were established. Town Hall Apartments in Chicago, IL, opened in August 2014. It had over 400 applicants for just 79 units. In 2016, 63% of the residents lived below the poverty line. A senior center located in the complex provides programming and services, including a full-time social worker and on-site property manager that is sensitive to the needs of transgender residents.

The John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia, PA opened in 2014 to residents aged 62 and older. Its developer, Pennrose, utilized thoughtful marketing, held community meetings with LGBTQ leaders, and sent updates via community mailing lists to make sure LGBTQ seniors were aware of the project and able to apply for housing.

More recently, 55 Laguna St, located in San Francisco, CA, opened in March 2017. It offers 40 apartments and coordinates programming with the Bob Ross LGBT Senior Center, located next door at 65 Laguna St. Both organizations were projects of Openhouse, a support and advocacy organization aimed at serving the needs of LGBT seniors in San Francisco.

Ohio has made its own strides in providing safe and equitable housing for LGBTQ seniors. A Place for Us in Lakewood, OH, just outside of Cleveland, opened in the fall of 2016. It was the first senior housing facility in Ohio marketed to be LGBTQ friendly, creating a community that embraces everyone. And last summer, Pennrose partnered with the Northsiders Engaged in Sustainable Transformation (NEST) to announce the development of the John Arthur Flats, Cincinnati’s first LGBTQ-friendly, affordable, senior housing community. It is slated for completion in June 2022 and has begun accepting applications.
Not to be left out, the redevelopment of the Dayton Arcade, an historic complex of buildings, utilized McCormack Baron as the property management company of the Art Lofts residences. McCormack Baron, involved in the nation’s very first LGBT affordable housing complex with Triangle Square, manages several properties aimed specifically at serving LGBTQ populations. All its properties, however, operate according to LGBTQ-inclusive guidelines.

Developers like Pennrose and McCormack, that partner with LGBTQ community organizations and utilize LGBTQ-inclusive guidelines are a significant step in the right direction to help provide safe housing for elder members of the LGBTQ population, but that is not the only way to help ensure safety for that population. Organizations that provide culturally responsive training are also crucial in helping educate community providers.

Sadly, many organizations that engage with older adults don’t have extensive experience addressing needs specific to the LGBTQ community. This can result in members of those populations receiving subpar care or treatment, even rising to the level of discrimination, which creates fear and can lead to members of those populations avoiding medical care or hiding their identities.

Programming like SAGECare, nationally, and Rainbow Elder Care, locally here in Ohio, provide advocacy, educational resources, support, and referral services to the elder LGBT community and straight allies. “When providers can understand the pervasive stigma and discrimination folks they serve have lived through, it can be a powerful emotional lesson and a truly eye-opening experience” said Hilary Meyer, founder of SAGECare. As a result of these trainings, agencies are likely to take steps to be more sensitive to LGBTQ clients and residents. They are likely to reconsider their marketing to be more inclusive and welcoming to LGBTQ populations. Last, and most importantly, agency and staff awareness of unique life experiences, needs, and preferences of LGBTQ clients is increased, leading to better outcomes for LGBTQ populations.

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