Behind the New Housing Developments for LGBT Seniors


LGBT seniors in Philadelphia now have a new housing option in the “Gayborhood,” the nickname for the neighborhood where the William Way Residence opened. The 56-unit housing development, funded by the Dr. Magnus Hirshfeld Fund, is a haven for elderly LGBT folks who need affordable housing.

Only Minneapolis and San Fransisco have opened housing locations similar to the one being funded in Philadelphia by the Hirschfeld Fund, though the trend is also gaining traction, with another under development in Chicago. Minneapolis opened a 46-unit project in the fall of 2013 called Spirit on the Lake, and it has served as a trailblazer and model for other programs.

More LGBT advocates and funders are concerned about the options for gay seniors, who are not as likely to have the kinds of resources needed to remain in their own homes as they age. LGBT seniors are also more vulnerable because they're less likely to have children and have often been rejected by their families of origin.

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Meanwhile, these seniors may fear discrimination or harassment in traditional retirement communities, and know firsthand of people who go back into the closet when they join retirement communities. Research suggests that same-sex couples are treated differently when buying or renting homes, and many are afraid to be open about their sexual identities. 

Who comes together to make these housing developments happen? Spirit on the Lake in Minneapolis is a partnership of the Everwood Development and three nonprofits:

  • PRG: “A nonprofit responsive housing organization that combines bricks and mortar development with housing education and one-on-one counseling to build neighborhood stability and family self-sufficiency.”

  • Living Table United Church of Christ: “A community of people who identify as spiritual but bristle at the baggage that is often associated with religion.”

  • Quatrefoil Library: An organization with a mission to “collect, maintain, document and circulate gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer materials and information in a safe and accessible space.”

In Philadelphia, funding for the William Way Senior Residences was a collaboration of the Dr. Magnus Hirshfeld Fund and Pennrose Properties, which specializes in affordable housing. Hirschfeld Fund Executive Director Mark Segal spoke out about the importance of having these residences in a recent interview with NBC Philly: "People who came out in 1969… you would have been one-tenth of one percent of America who was out. And those people who were out, in those days, who are now in their 60s and 70s—well, they didn’t get 401Ks. If you were out in those days, you couldn’t get a good job, and this building will serve people like that."

As awareness about this issue grows, and nonprofits and for-profits collaborate, look for more of these retirement communities to start popping up across the nation.   


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