The opening of an affordable housing complex for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors in downtown Philadelphia vindicates years of work by supporters who felt gay elders have been marginalized by youth culture.
Only two other U.S. cities have similar developments.
Experts say gay seniors are less likely than their straight peers to have the financial and family resources to age in homes of their own. Many fear discrimination at traditional elder housing facilities, leading them back into the closet after years of being open.
Philadelphia joins Los Angeles and Minneapolis in offering designated gay-friendly, affordable senior housing, collectively offering about 200 units. Two more complexes are under construction in Chicago and San Francisco.
Yet advocates say that’s nowhere near enough: Research indicates the number of gay seniors in the U.S. is expected to double to 3 million by 2030.
The housing problem may ease for future generations as legalized gay marriage allows same-sex spouses to inherit a partner’s property and benefits, said Catherine Thurston, senior program director at New York-based Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE.
Although anti-discrimination laws prohibit gay-only housing, buildings can be made LGBT-friendly through marketing and location. The $19.5 million Philadelphia project sits in the affectionately nicknamed Gayborhood. When the leasing office opened last fall, hopeful tenants sat in a block-long line to drop off applications.
Those seniors belong to the generation that trailblazed gay rights, said Mark Segal, chairman of the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund, which led the development. Yet their activism and openness often cost them both family ties and the opportunity for traditional jobs with retirement benefits, he said.
“Why should people, who were the pioneers of the community, not live with dignity? It’s outrageous,” Segal said. “We have to take care of our own — nobody else is.”
At the Philadelphia building, monthly rents range from $192 to $786 based on income, which can’t exceed $33,000 per year. Nearly all the residents identify as LGBT.