Artist’s rendering of Oak Lawn Place
Seniors have a great risk of being abused and neglected when it comes to housing, according to the Coalition for Aging LGBT
CAROLINE SAVOIE | Contributing Writer
When Robert Emery, 64, walks into senior housing communities on training days, he asks his audience a question: “Who knows or loves someone who is LGBT?” Usually, a few timid hands come up around the room, he said. At the end of the 60-minute discussion, he asks the question again.
“Without fail, 100 percent of people raise their hands” that second time, Emery said. “The fact is, everyone knows someone who is LGBT, but they’re not used to talking about it until someone comes in and makes it okay.”
Emery, a founding board member of Coalition for Aging LGBT in Dallas, said that during the last decade, he’s noticed more and more seniors proclaiming their place in the community. He said the rising number of seniors coming out is inextricably linked to how supported and empowered they feel.
Openly LGBTQ seniors “have a great risk of being abused and neglected when it comes to housing,” Emery said. “And a majority of LGBT seniors reported abuse or neglect after being outed to staff. It’s unbelievably powerful to be supported by management.”
Emery said he advocates for the approximate 400,000 LGBTQ seniors in North Texas by providing cultural competencies training at retirement communities. Each year, the coalition vets senior living facilities to determine whether they can protect and respect LGBTQ residents.
“We don’t have the manpower to get to all of the communities in North Texas, but anyone can go anywhere and ask them the questions we lay out on our website,” he said.
This questionnaire measures what Emery calls “the LGBT-friendly housing metric,” and features questions like, “Does your senior housing community have a written process in place to handle residents making discriminatory comments?” And “Do any of your promotional materials contain images of LGBT individuals?”
Dallas city officials, LGBTQ advocates and developers report that in the last decade, the need for senior housing that affirms LGBTQ residents has become more apparent.
According to SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders,) a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the lives of the LGBTQ community, finding safe and affordable housing is one of the most significant concerns for members of this group.
According to a report by the Equal Rights Center, a D.C.-based civil rights organization that focuses on discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, 48 percent of older same-sex couples applying for housing were subjected to discrimination, putting elders at greater risk for chronic health problems, social isolation, poverty and premature mortality.
Jacob Fisher, a vice president at housing developer Pennrose, said the company aims to build more than 10,000 units of LGBTQ-affirming senior housing across the country. He said Pennrose works with community-based non-profits to develop housing, and those organizations bring in staff for support services, educational programs and social activities.
Most recently, Fisher completed the John C. Anderson Apartments, an LGBTQ-affirming community in Philadelphia. He said there’s no check-box on the application asking which letter potential residents identify with, and fair housing laws dictate that properties can’t discriminate based on sexual orientation.
“Calling a property LGBTQ-affirming is a self-selecting mechanism,” Fisher said. “People are either going to live there because they identify with the community or they’re allies who are comfortable in that community.”
Fisher said Pennrose is working on four more LGBTQ-affirming housing developments in Boston, New Haven, New York and Denver.
Dallas isn’t far behind.
Oak Lawn Place
Cece Cox, CEO of Resource Center which provides LGBTQ health care and advocacy in Dallas, said Oak Lawn Place, a $31 million 84-unit LGBTQ-affirming senior housing community, is scheduled to open on July 1 this year.
In November, the list of seniors interested in the building was 40 people long. Cox said applications should open March 1.
Cox said that property management will be focused on the interests and needs of LGBTQ seniors. Following in the footsteps of projects like the John C. Anderson apartments in Philadelphia, Cox said the building will feature LGBTQ art and photography.
Cox added that she traveled to LGBTQ-focused developments across the country to learn “what not to do.”
“Being intentional with the visuals around the development is a part of it,” Fisher said of the Philadelphia project. “I think it’s healthy for people to see their identities reflected back to them.”
According to Resource Center, the building, located one block from Inwood Road and Denton Drive Cut Off, will have lots of natural light, step-in showers and wheelchair-wide doors, single- and double-occupancy rooms, a gym, a private party room, a dog park, on-site classes and gatherings and Resource Center staff dedicated to making residents feel welcome and comfortable.
According to the Child Poverty Action Lab’s spring 2023 housing report, the city of Dallas has a 33,660 rental unit supply gap for its lowest-income residents. Cox said LGBTQ seniors often fall into that category, partially because of the delay in marriage equality.
“Affordability is a key factor for queer people,” Cox said. “It was only eight years ago that our marriages were recognized, so we weren’t able to accumulate assets in the way straight people would.”
As an example, she noted that partners couldn’t collect their late spouses’ Social Security income until same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015. Cox also said fewer LGBTQ seniors have children who can care for them as they age.
“Our chosen families are so strong, but in many cases, our friends are close in age to us, and they’re aging with us,” she said.
Dallas City Councilman Chad West said the city’s aim as part of the $1 billion bond package is to use about $100 million to help bring in new affordable housing developments. Simultaneously, the city is considering a proposal to decrease lot sizes and change zoning regulations. About 85 percent of the city’s land is zoned for 5,000-square-foot, single-family homes.
One example for solutions is Oak Lawn Place, Cox said, where rental units fall under affordable housing distinctions, and market rate apartments don’t apply. She said the market rate for apartments in Dallas is around $1,400 on average, and Oak Lawn Place rents range between $562 for a single to $1200 for a two-bedroom apartment.
“I’m just elated to bring this to the community and honor our seniors who made so many things possible for the rest of us,” Cox said. “If we can help close the affordable housing gap by doing that, it’s even better.”
Councilman West said another avenue for LGBTQ elders needing affordable housing is getting assistance from HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS.) This federal program helps eligible persons living with HIV get affordable and stable housing while improving their access to health care and supportive services.
Despite Dallas experiencing one of the largest affordable housing gaps in the state, there are improvements, Emery said. Every time he returns to a senior living facility to recertify their LGBTQ affirmation, conditions for employees and its residents have improved.
“I started these efforts a decade ago,” Emery said. “Whether we’re changing the culture or the culture is changing us, conditions for our LGBT elders are improving day by day.”
Courtesy of the Dallas Media Collaborative, a collaborative reporting project focused on solutions to the affordable housing crisis in Dallas. The Dallas Voice is part of the Dallas Media Collaborative, launched by the Solutions Journalism Network with funding from the Knight Foundation. Find out more at dallasmediacollab.com.