A new community being built in New York City named Ingersoll Senior Residences (ISR) will be the largest affordable LGBT senior housing development in the country when it opens this summer.
LGBT seniors face the same issues as many other seniors, such as limited mobility, growing health needs and fixed incomes. In addition, LGBT seniors often have trouble finding affordable senior housing because of discrimination. ISR represents the latest step in the development of more affordable housing around the nation welcoming to LGBT seniors.
ISR is being built in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. In addition to its 140 affordable apartments, it will have a center on the ground floor offering services, advice and activities geared to residents 62 years and older. Another similar project, Crotona Park North, is slated for completion in the Bronx in 2020. Both properties are backed by SAGE, the oldest and largest LGBT senior advisory group in the U.S. There is huge demand for these apartments, with SAGE reporting a list of 2,000 people interested in the two developments.
Speaker of the New York City Council, Corey Johnson, told The Daily Beast that, “Senior LGBT New Yorkers deserve to live their best lives, and they should be able to live happily and freely in an environment where they feel comfortable and fits their needs. But most of all, LGBT seniors need to live somewhere affordable.”
LGBT seniors experience challenges finding affordable housing, primarily because of discrimination. In two-thirds of the country, there are no laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. A 2014 report from the Equal Rights Center found 48% of same-sex couples applying for senior housing experienced discrimination. Among older transgender persons, 25% experienced housing discrimination.
Discrimination can happen in the application process, such as when LGBT applicants are told there are no units available when in fact there are empty apartments. Or their applications may be accepted, but they are charged higher rent. LGBT renters have often faced more hurdles in the application process itself, such as being asked to provide more information than other applicants and delays in processing applications.
Once in an affordable senior apartment, many senior LGBT renters continue to experience discrimination from neighbors and property staff. This can include verbal harassment, hateful graffiti, vandalism or even violence. A big reason for having affordable housing that welcomes LGBT seniors is that fear of discrimination can lead many to re-closet themselves. A 2009 study by Michigan’s Fair Housing Centers found that 33% of gay and lesbian respondents felt they would have to hide their sexual orientation if they moved to a retirement home.
Many LGBT seniors have low incomes in their retirement years. Often, their work opportunities were limited by prejudice. It is still most common for relatives to support older family members, but LGBT seniors are more likely to be alone or have caregivers who are not blood relations. This was the first generation to be open about their sexuality, and many of these seniors have been estranged from their families. The AIDS epidemic hit the LGBT community hard, and many LGBT seniors have lost partners to the disease. LGBT men are especially vulnerable to being alone. They often have no relatives or partners, no children, and they are priced out of neighborhoods.
What makes affordable rental housing welcoming to LGBT seniors? For one, LGBT senior properties have made changes in marketing materials and staff training to better serve their residents. Property marketing materials have been updated to include same-sex couples. Application forms have been revised to better reflect LGBT realities. For example, since nationwide same-sex marriage is relatively new, many LBGT couples have lived in domestic partnership arrangements. Limiting relationship status questions to “married” or “single” does not fit the circumstances of many senior LGBT applicants. Staff training is geared to promoting more sensitivity and respectfulness. For example, teaching staff to respect that many elderly LGBT residents see their friends and social networks as family.
Many LGBT senior properties are designed with spaces to bring the community together. Gardens, fitness rooms and meeting spaces are common features. Some projects have also included strong community involvement in design. Social spaces can help connect these developments to the communities around them. They can also foster a more welcoming environment for the residents.
John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia is an LGBT senior property that won a prestigious award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), in large part because of community involvement in designing and maintaining it. The property has a garden and community room that serve residents, as well as the broader community for fundraisers and meetings. There is also a retail space rented by a coffee shop. Early on, the residents took over the 6,000 square foot courtyard garden from the landscapers, winning many gardening awards in the process.
Triangle Square Apartments was the first affordable LGBT senior property in the country. Located near the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, it opened in June 2007. Since then, other affordable LGBT senior housing has been built in at least 12 states. The LGBT community has historically been marginalized and faced a lot of housing discrimination. Affordable LGBT senior developments serve some of our most vulnerable seniors. They are building welcoming communities as well as affordable apartments.