Standing in front of the old Town Hall police station in Chicago’s Boystown, openly gay Ald. Tom Tunney and other Chicago officials announced plans May 13 to convert the historic property into a 90-unit public housing project aimed at LGBT seniors.
“This is an exciting day for the community and the city,” Tunney said. “This one-of-a-kind housing development will have up to 90 units and will be the first of its kind in the Midwest.”
The Chicago Department of Housing designated Heartland Housing as the developer for the project, selling the property to the nonprofit for $1.
Michael Goldberg, executive director at Heartland, said a 2005 study the group did estimated that there are more than 40,000 LGBT seniors in the Chicago area, a number that’s going up every year. Those LGBT seniors face the same issues and needs for affordable housing that other seniors face, Goldberg said, compounded by discrimination issues.
“Chicago needs affordable housing for LGBT seniors,” Goldberg said. “Heartland Housing is proud to have been selected as developer of this critical project.”
A 2009 report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force noted that LGBT seniors across the United States often face discrimination in mainstream senior housing. Many, the report said, feel compelled to hide their sexual orientation in those settings.
“Creating LGBT-targeted and LGBT-friendly elder housing is a scarcely developed yet important option for enabling our elders to age in their own communities, avoid isolation and receive culturally competent care,” the report stated.
But, the NGLTF researchers found, few such options exist. There are some senior housing developments targeting LGBTs around the country but almost all are market-rate or upper-income. Steps to open affordable, public-supported LGBT senior housing similar to the project announced in Chicago have been taken in Boston and Philadelphia. To date, the 104-unit Triangle Square-Hollywood in West Hollywood, which opened in 2007, is the only such development in the nation.
“LGBT-affirming or LGBT-centric housing options do not exist for the vast majority of the nation’s LGBT elders who seek them,” the NGLTF report stated. “While the majority of initiatives in LGBT housing have been in the for-profit arena, the economic vulnerabilities experienced by LGBT elders over the lifespan documented here indicate that culturally competent, LGBT-affirming public and affordable housing options are most sorely needed.”
Heartland is partnering with the Center on Halsted, Chicago’s LGBT community center next door to the new development, to develop the project. The Center currently serves 800 to 1,000 LGBT seniors per year, an official there said.
The historic Town Hall police station, closed last November after more than a century, will be preserved and incorporated into the overall design. A new building to go up between the station and the Center will be designed by Gensler, the same architectural firm that created the award-winning design of the Center.
“When the Center was born, we took the model of Daniel Burnham: Make no small plans,” said Modesto Valle, executive director of the Center. “Today we take the opportunity to create something that will not only impact Chicago, but the whole country.”
Chicago officials said they were pleased with the outcome after four years of research, planning and negotiation.
“We’ve done a lot of work with Heartland Housing over the years, and we’re sure this will be another successful development,” said Chicago Department of Housing Deputy Commissioner Bill Eager.
While the announcement of the agreement with Heartland was a big step, the project is still a long way from completion, and officials would not give an estimate on when it would become a reality. None of the financing for the development is in place yet, officials said.
“These projects require multiple financing sources and we’re looking forward to getting going on it,” Eager said.
And while the development will be geared to the needs of LGBT seniors, as public housing it won’t exclude others who meet the age, income and other requirements.
“There won’t be discrimination,” Goldberg said. “This will be an open community.”