Low-Cost Housing for LGBT Seniors: A New Model Launches in Philly?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday September 14, 2014

A low-cost housing program for LGBT seniors has started in Philadelphia. Early indications are that it's a huge success -- but the one site is far from enough to meet a growing need.

The Washington Post reported in a Sept. 12 article that the John C Anderson apartments offers a safe space for gay and lesbian retirees who might otherwise have nowhere else to turn except for facilities where lingering anti-LGBT bias creates the potential for a hostile living situation.

Many of the elders housed at the apartments were active in helping secure rights and recognition for America's sexual minorities, but have neither the financial independence nor the support of family to retire worry-free. With an estimated 1.5 million LGBT elders already having reached the age of 65 or over, and with the aging of the baby boomers ensuring a spike of elderly and retiring people of all demographics in the years to come, demand for such housing alternatives is sure to rise.

The John C. Anderson apartments is a starting place to meet some of that growing demand, and to counter anti-gay bias in the system and among older generations. The complex is named for a Philadelphia city council member who reportedly died of AIDS in 1983.

"This initiative is part of a broader campaign by the federal government to address what officials say is growing housing discrimination based on sexual orientation," the article said. "The trend is due in part to more gay Americans being out of the closet, officially married and more aware of their rights than ever before, said Gustavo Velasquez, assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at Housing and Urban Development."

The article also reported that the federal government has plans in place to test housing situations for anti-gay bias in the same way the government tests for racial prejudice.

The article took note of the poetic justice of the government now seeking to ensure equitable treatment for LGBT elders when policies banning gays from working for the federal government remain in living memory.

This is most recent example of the senior housing market responding to the growing need for housing that treats LGBT persons with respect and dignity. The plight of gay and lesbian elders encountering hostility, anti-gay animus,and even abuse in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and the medical establishment has also drawn increased media attention in recent years. In 2011, The New York Times reported on how aging LGBT Americans experienced traumatic episodes of bigotry and harassment.

The rise of retirement facilities catering to LGBTs has had something of a rocky start, but as demand rises, and with barriers to federal recognition of gay and lesbian families abolished and a greater social acceptance of openly gay individuals flourishing, the prospects of more equitable treatment for America's LGBT elders has brightened.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.