A new home for LGBT seniors in Philadelphia

By | February 28, 2014

By Angela D. Giampolo

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Original source: http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/blog/guest-comment/2014/02/a-new-home-for-lgbt-seniors-in.html?page=all

Rainbow ribbons were ceremoniously cut this week at the John C. Anderson Apartment building at 249 S. 13th Street in the heart of Philadelphia’s Gayborhood. The residences are the third of its kind in America — after Los Angeles and Minneapolis — offering affordable housing to Philadelphia’s LGBT seniors, and the first to be developed in the country financed in part with the sale of low-income housing tax credits.

The $19.5 million development is a six-story marvel, complete with 56 apartments, commercial space, lobby, common room, huge windows with natural light, a full courtyard and massive closet space that would make a drag queen swoon!

Of the total funds for development, $11.5 million came in the form of low-income housing tax credits, with the rest was made up from grants through the city, the state along with federal funding. A passion project for The Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund (dmhFund) and its president (and publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News)Mark Segal, the apartments were many years in the making. Partnering with Pennrose Properties, a nationally recognized leader in affordable housing development, financing closed in September 2012 with construction commencing a month later.

The building’s namesake, John C. Anderson, was elected to be a member-at-large of Philadelphia City Council in 1979. Anderson advocated through City Council to pass one of the nation’s first LGBT city ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Anderson was an advocate for equality, whose presence and work strongly contributed to Philadelphia’s LGBT-friendly reputation.

Anderson died tragically young, a victim of AIDS, but his work is a powerful and moving legacy. Anderson was a friend and mentor to many, including current Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter who said John C. Anderson is the sole reason he entered civil service to begin with.

The John C. Anderson Apartment building offers affordable housing to Philadelphia LGBT seniors earning between $8,000 and $33,000 a year, with rent ranging from $192 to $786 based on income. The building offers a wonderful sense of community to a population long marginalized on two levels: first, as elders; and second, as LGBT individuals.

There is still a significant under-representation of the elderly demographic within the LGBT community — who have been called “Gen-Silent,” reflecting their tendency to be forced into the closet later in life and their inability to fight discrimination on their own behalf. The center is certainly a great addition to the Philadelphia community, but estimates suggest that the demand for this kind of housing is far greater. By 2030 the LGBT elder community in America is expected to have over 3 million people.

It is not widely publicized but LGBT seniors suffer many forms of discrimination and victimization when entering senior housing. As such, a significant percentage of LGBT elders refuse supportive senior services, which ultimately results in a restriction or loss of their human rights. Their reluctance to take advantage of available supportive services increases their risk of isolation and self-neglect. LGBT elders are forced to rely on home health aides or enter a long-term care facility, many times causing significant financial hardships.

Once they rely on these alternatives, they are subsequently faced with an even greater pressure to further conceal their identities to avoid increasing or harsher neglect; essentially going back into the closet after years of living openly and authentically.

In a recent study, LGBT elders in the care of long-term-care facilities complained that service providers had refused to provide basic services, such as bathing, toileting, and feeding because they objected to touching an LGBT individual. A number of respondents also reported that these care facilities attempted to discharge or refuse to admit patients based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The John C. Anderson apartments will help combat this issue for at least Philadelphia’s elderly. Pennsylvania continues to be a state with no laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity when it comes to finding a place to live. These, and other LGBT friendly apartments like it, are a step in the right direction and should be applauded for advancing human rights for our seniors.

I know I’ve got a few decades to go, but I cannot wait to move in!

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