Five years ago, when David Oscar moved into the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York City, he hid the fact that he was gay. At the time, Oscar says he thought it could be used against him. “I grew up at a time when being gay was illegal and some even called it a mental illness,” he says. “My life was very secretive.”
But in 2016, the 86-year-old helped form the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) & Allies support group at the skilled-nursing facility. Since then, Oscar says, “I’m finally able to express that part of my personality that is so important to me. Now I feel at home.”
Many LGBT seniors have long faced difficult housing choices: Move into a traditional retirement community and not disclose their sexual identity, or be open about it and hope that staff, residents and health care professionals don’t judge or shun them.
Similarly, LGBT seniors who age in place have had to cross their fingers that their home health aides will treat them respectfully.
“Discrimination and harassment have been going on for decades,” says Kelly Kent, director of the National LGBT Elder Housing Initiative, which is part of LGBT advocacy organization SAGE. A 2014 Equal Rights Center study of fair housing shows that 48% of same-sex couples received different treatment than heterosexual couples when it came to housing deposits and fees, availability, and applications. Today, only 21 states or localities offer fair-housing protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
With more LGBT housing initiatives springing up and increased sensitivity training for long-term-care staff and home health agencies, the landscape is changing. And as the number of LGBT seniors grows, housing options geared to this population are likely to increase. Today there are three million LGBT adults age 65 and older in the U.S., and that number is projected to reach seven million by 2030.
From the City to the Country
More retirement housing options of all kinds are being built or retrofitted to serve the aging LGBT community. The majority feature affordable housing apartments in urban areas that offer on-site support services and social opportunities. Among them are John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia and Spirit On Lake in Minneapolis. Federal anti-discrimination laws mean heterosexual seniors can rent there, too.
Two new LGBT developments spearheaded by SAGE are slated to open in New York City in summer 2019: Ingersoll Senior Residences in Brooklyn and Crotona Senior Residences in the Bronx.
While many LGBT 50-plus projects are affordable housing with income restrictions, some are market-rate retirement communities. Fountaingrove Lodge, located in California’s wine country, features luxurious living quarters, gourmet meals, a movie theatre and a spa for independent-living, assisted-living and memory-care residents. Other market-rate communities include Carefree Cove in Boone, N.C., and The Residences at Seashore Point in Provincetown, Mass.
When Fountaingrove Lodge opened in 2014, John Mullen moved into a unit with two bedrooms plus a den, paying a refundable $789,500 entrance fee and a monthly fee of about $5,600. Mullen had been living in San Francisco, but as he grew older and after his partner passed away, “I wanted the company of others,” he says. Residents, both LGBT and heterosexual, have become close friends. “We live like a great, big family,” says Mullen, 81. “It feels like they are all my cousins, brothers and sisters.”
While LGBT seniors now have more options ranging from affordable to luxury housing, “we still have a long way to go,” says SAGE’s Kent. But Kent says he knows of nearly 20 affordable-housing developments under discussion. More market-rate projects are also emerging to meet the needs of wealthier LGBT boomers and seniors.
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