LGBTQ-Friendly Housing Brings Inclusion, Community

Developers should help increase safe, welcoming options for seniors.

By Charlie Adams and Aileen Montour 

For members of the LGBTQ community, access to safe, affordable and inclusive housing is a necessity. Research has shown that LGBTQ-identifying individuals report lower incomes, increased food insecurity, higher unemployment and increased vulnerability to homelessness. 

Many cities across the country have implemented initiatives over the years to combat discrimination and promote inclusivity — everything from opening LGBTQ community centers to hosting pride parades. But as “the Stonewall Generation” grows older, more can and should be done. We need to take additional steps to address the new challenges LGBTQ seniors face as they age.

[Riots that started in 1969 at The Stonewall Inn in New York City are often credited with launching the gay rights movement in the United States.]

According to the latest Census data, there are approximately 51 million people age 65 and older in the United States, with at least 1.1 million identifying as LGBTQ. Of that population, 50 percent of same-sex couples experienced housing discrimination, according to research conducted by the Equal Rights Center.

For example, LGBTQ seniors are often asked screening questions regarding marriage and children during the housing search and application process, which can alienate members of the community who may not be considered to have a historically “conventional” family. 

Other types of housing discrimination include asking a transgender individual to conform to traditional gender roles in common areas or a landlord showing a gay couple fewer available apartments than other applicants. This type of subtle discrimination adds to the ongoing issue of housing instability and homelessness among LGBTQ individuals.

Discrimination isn’t the only concern. Currently, only eight cities in the United States have LGBTQ-friendly seniors housing options according to SAGE, the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older people. Many seniors worry about finding an affordable place to live, but LGBTQ seniors are also concerned with finding a home where they can be themselves without being forced back into the closet decades after coming out.

We hold the solutions

It’s up to real estate developers and operators to help address this issue by developing more affordable, inclusive housing options. By explicitly designating a residential community as LGBTQ-friendly, developers can allow residents to be their most authentic selves while creating a safe, welcoming space for those of all different backgrounds. 

At Pennrose, we’ve been working to develop LGBTQ-affirmative communities in cities across the country. We’re honored to have been recently announced as the designated developer of the former William Barton Rogers School redevelopment in Boston with our nonprofit partner, LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc. 

Pennrose will work with LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc. to transform the historic structure into a high-quality, mixed-income, LBGTQ-friendly development for seniors — the first of its kind in New England. Staff at the residential community will receive “cultural competency” training to ensure all residents feel comfortable and welcome.

To be successful, it’s important that LGBTQ-friendly residential communities are designed to meet the specific needs and unique challenges of residents. For instance, the building may feature inviting community rooms or outdoor spaces to help foster a sense of community and connection among residents. Building operators can also establish partnerships with local organizations to host LGBTQ-focused fundraisers, meetings and programming on site. 

Find like-minded organizations

In Boston, the Rogers School redevelopment team is partnering with local LGBTQ organizations, such as the LGBT History Project, LGBT Elders of Color and lesbian meet-up groups. These partnerships offer LGBTQ-focused events and services to help foster community and provide a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQ seniors to congregate.

Local partnerships also serve to integrate the local community into the development. For example, in Boston, partnerships with organizations like the Hyde Park Art Association, Hyde Park YMCA, the Boston Public Library and the Civil War 54th Regiment Reenactors will provide residents with the opportunity to enjoy intergenerational programming. 

Pennrose is also currently working with Habitat for Humanity New York City and RiseBoro Community Partnership to develop Haven Green in New York City. Haven Green is a 123-unit, deeply affordable, LGBTQ-friendly rental complex for seniors. The site offers 8,000 square feet of publicly accessible open space in the Little Italy neighborhood of Manhattan. 

The development partners are working with SAGE to provide tailored resident services. 

Aside from Haven Green, Pennrose developed Philadelphia’s first LGBTQ-friendly community in 2014. John C. Anderson Apartments is a 62-and-older, inclusive residential building in the heart of Center City Philadelphia. In addition to modern apartment features and amenities like a community roof deck, residents are just minutes from shopping, dining, the city’s “Avenue of the Arts” and local LGBTQ resources, such as William Way Community Center and Mazzoni Center. 

By collaborating with city leaders, forming local partnerships and seeking community input, we strive to build communities where diversity and inclusion are celebrated. It is our hope that more and more cities throughout the country follow Boston’s lead and work together to deliver more affordable, inclusive housing options for the LGBTQ community.

Charlie Adams is a regional vice president at Pennrose, a multifamily developer and manager. He is responsible for the growth of Pennrose’s development pipeline. Aileen Montour is president of LGBTQ Senior Housing Inc., as well as a retired registered nurse and licensed acupuncturist.