LGBT retirement communities grow in popularity in spite of economic challenges

by Michelle Parsons

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday May 13, 2010

Even with the growing popularity of LGBT-specific retirement communities, developers and organizers still face challenges that can cripple building efforts.

Finances are the first and biggest hurdle developers must jump over.

Successful communities like Triangle Square, the affordable housing center in Los Angeles built by the Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing, are examples of how tenacity and patience have paid off. It took about 22 million dollars in state and federal housing funds to complete this project.

"For the low income, obviously there's no money in it, so if you're a for-profit developer this is not what you want to do," said Mark Supper, executive director of GLEH. "In the criteria to acquire funds, you have to have a lot of development experience and you're also a landlord and social service provider. There's a lot of bureaucracy, in a sense, in running these things."

Even more mainstream LGBT retirement communities, however, are difficult to complete. Construction on Dallas' Silver Hope project stopped in 2008 because funding became difficult to obtain. And a more recent development in Boston, Stonewall Communities' Audubon Circle, had to halt construction at the end of last year because of the economic downturn.

In spite of the recession, there are some developments that continue to progress. These include the projects headed up by Gay and Lesbian Association of Retiring Persons.

Mary Thornbal, executive director of GLARP, said even with land scarcity and resistance from some residents, her organization is close to the construction stage of their assisted living, permanent care non-profit facility.

"It's very expensive and I feel very fortunate to have land that a company is very inclined to fund, so I'm anxious to get going on it," added Thornbal. "We have a team in place that's ready to move on the development as soon as we get the land in place..."

And while Palms of Manasota in Palmetto, Fla., Rainbow Vision in Santa Fe, N.M., and other resort-style communities are also growing in popularity, Catherine Thurston, senior director for programs of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, said these assisted living, permanent care facilities remain extremely vital.

"I'm always really glad to hear that people are trying to create graduated communities so that LGBT older adults can age in place," she said. "...We need to remember there's going to be a time where they can't live independently, and how are we going to support our community then?"

Thurston also said incorporating all different kinds of retirement facilities for LGBT older adults help them feel comfortable and safe at a time where they most need to be who they are. She stressed the notion these facilities hinder LGBTs-at-large from fully integrating into society is simply untrue.

"This is not born of a desire to be exclusive, it's born of a desire to age in peace and age in a way to really be able to be themselves," said Thurston.

Triangle Square and other projects' success is evidence of this.

"We're completely full and have a waiting list of close to 200 people," said Supper.

The 104-unit building consists of mixed and lower income housing, with 34 percent designated for seniors with HIV/AIDS or those who are homeless. GLEH's development is the model for the future groundbreaking of other affordable housing communities for LGBT elders throughout the country.

"It took three years to really kind of create the model, what works and what doesn't work. We're right now searching for land in and outside of California," said Supper.