Service providers from across the country attended the first-ever federal summit on housing for LGBT elders at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ( HUD ) in Washington, D.C., Dec. 7.
Representatives from the Center on Halsted; Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders; the National Center for Transgender Equality; Lambda Legal; the National Black Justice Coalition; Affirmations in Ferndale, Mich.; and the National Senior Citizen Law Center were among those who attended the forum. HUD Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Raphael Bostic opened the gathering, while HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity John Trasviña and Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee also addressed the summit.
"Senior citizens and older adults have challenges already," Bostic told Windy City Times after he opened the summit. "LGBT seniors have a particular set of challenges that make them unique and more vulnerable."
Panelists discussed and debated support services for affordable housing, discrimination and legal barriers to long-term care, financial challenges that LGBT-friendly housing developments continue to confront and overall policy recommendations.
A SAGE affiliate, the Center on Halsted offers a variety of social and cultural activities to adults over 55. The organization serves hot lunches to approximately 200 seniors on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and a boxed meal once a week. Trained volunteers commit to weekly visits with homebound LGBT seniors through the Center's Friendly Visitor Program.
The center's home share program matches homeowners with younger tenants who assist them with household chores, transportation and other day-to-day tasks. The initiative has matched five people with homeowners since it launched late last year.
"We really see this as a win-win situation," said Hope Barrett, the center's senior director of public programs.
HUD announced in June 2010 that prospective grant recipients must comply with local and state anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The agency also unveiled a new media campaign in April designed to ensure that LGBT Americans have equal access to housing. Kenneth Johnson of HUD's Office for Civil Rights cited a complaint that the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago and OCR filed against a nursing home that had refused to admit a man with HIV. Under the settlement; the nursing home issued new non-discrimination policies and required staff to attend mandatory staff trainings on them and federal patient privacy regulations.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced in June that his agency had proposed a rule that would bar discrimination against LGBT people who seek access to HUD-funded programs or apply for Federal Housing Authority-backed mortgages. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ( CMS ) advised state Medicaid programs in the same month that they could extend limited spousal protections to same-sex and domestic partners.
The Defense of Marriage Act forbids Medicaid from extending direct benefits to same-sex couples, but Donovan personally backed marriage for gays and lesbians last month.
One way that service providers hope to address the lack of affordable housing for LGBT seniors is to build more so-called LGBT-friendly developments.
The center and Heartland Alliance hope to break ground on a 75-unit development at 3660 N. Halsted St. next year. It will feature five two-bedroom, 29 one-bedroom and 41 studio apartments and street level commercial space that could house a clinic and other health-related services.
"We certainly want to have services that will be easily accessible by the residents and that will go to support their living and aging comfortably," said Barrett.
Developers continue to work to secure funding for the project from public and private sources. The development is tentatively scheduled to open in 2015, but Barrett stressed it is important to have input from prospective residents on what they would need once they move in.
"As service providers, we have the best intentions at times, but what we imagine would be great for folks is not what they need," she said. "It's critical that we get input from our patrons and from folks who are actually going to use the services."
Other LGBT-friendly developments have proven viable options for their residents.
Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing's Triangle Square in Hollywood, Calif., offers 104 affordable apartmentsincluding 35 that have been set aside for people with HIV/AIDS and others who are either homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless. The first tenant moved into the development in Feb. 2007, and the last vacant apartment was rented by the end of that year.
The proposed $19 million William Way Senior Residences will feature 56 one-bedroom apartments in a new six-story building in Philadelphia's Center City. A combination of city and state sources have contributed $8 million to the proposed development, while the remaining $11 million will come from the sale of low income housing tax credits that are expected to take place by early summer 2012.
"There's a need for LGBT senior housinga need, and it can be done," said Mark Segal of the dmhFund, which will develop the project with Pennrose Properties. "The funds are out there."
The city of San Francisco had originally agreed to finance a proposed LGBT-friendly development at the former University of California Extension campus that will contain at least 88 apartments for low-income seniors, but the recession and declining real estate values nearly derailed the project. A combination of tax credits, local funding and HUD financing will finance the project, but financial challenges remain. These include a lack of local funds, a federal environmental and historical clearance and high rents for tax credit-financed buildings.
"We want people to be able to move in and stay there for the rest of their lives," said Seth Kilbourne, executive director of Openhouse, a non-profit that will co-manage the development with Mercy Housing California.
In spite of the challenges, Barrett applauded HUD and other agencies and service providers who continue to seek solutions.
"We are definitely building momentum to bring the issues of concerns of LGBT older adults to the forefront, to make folks more visible and to make our issues more visible," she said.