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Philadelphia Breaks Ground on Low-Income Housing for LGBT Seniors

by Andrew Clark
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Dec 19, 2012

On November 9, the City of Philadelphia announced the groundbreaking of the John C. Anderson Apartments, a new senior center aimed at low-income LGBT residents. The six-story building will have 56 units available early in 2013, and will be the first of its kind placed within in an urban gay neighborhood. Set to be built in the heart of Philadelphia's "gayborhood," the apartments will allow residents access to the many LGBT-focused programs and organizations located in the neighborhood, and afford easy socialization prospects with locals.

"Sometimes family is not an option for LGBT seniors," said Segal. "Therefore it is up to us to insure that nurturing atmosphere. That's what a community is all about," said Mark Segal, a lifelong LGBT advocate dating back to the 1969 Stonewall riots and a figurehead in Philadelphia LGBT politics.

This nearly $20 million project will be coordinated through the dmhFund, a non-profit with a focus on LGBT programs, and Pennrose Properties, an affordable-housing developer. The funding is being received through a Philadelphia HOME grant, Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds, and low-income housing tax credits. Depending on the income tier of the unit, rent is expected to range from $165-785 a month.

Taking cues from other residences like it, such as Triangle Square in Los Angeles, the Anderson Apartments hope to be more than simply a refuge for LGBT seniors. It aims to tackle the larger issues that have made such a place necessary.

So what are these issues? Why is such a specific housing project in such high demand? Beyond the more obvious concerns regarding safety and acceptance, the most important reason found in recent polls is to share a living space with those who had similar life experiences. But it is the more pressing matter of there being a lack of care given to the needs of LGBT seniors that sparked the movement to make the Anderson Apartments a reality.

"LGBT elder issues seem to almost be nonexistent. There is a lack of information and services for our elders," said Segal.

Much of current seniors’ lives were spent in a country where there was mass discrimination and violence against the LGBT community, leading to countless stories of secrecy and self-denial regarding sexuality. This led to very little community building and a subsequent lack of political heft that other aging communities have been able to find. It is these desires to be with those with similar life experiences and a shared lack of representation that has brought many to want an LGBT focused living situation.

"If you asked Catholic Charities or the Jewish Federation why they want to live together as they grow older, they’d tell you that when you reach a certain age you’d like to be surrounded by your family and community. It is no different for LGBT seniors," Segal pointed out. The chief force behind gaining funding for the project, Segal points out why this can be even more dire for our community.

LGBT seniors are much more likely to be without children and close relatives to assist in the aging process, making them significantly more reliant on the care provided by senior centers such as this one. While the more obvious goal might be to ensure that all senior centers are properly accommodating to all residents, one of the hopes is that residences such as the John C. Anderson Apartments will help to bring an immediate place for LGBT seniors to go to while beginning a dialogue with others regarding the concerns of this underrepresented demographic.

A similar goal of the Anderson Apartments addresses this lack of representation in both the nation’s senior population as well the LGBT population. The thought process is a sound one. If aging LGBT people are brought together in a safe and comfortable environment, then it follows that they will better be able to come together to have their voice heard. With the aforementioned lack of family and relations to speak for them, this is a crucial step in caring better for our senior members.

What this achieves is not only higher levels of equality and representation for this community, but also opens up the opportunity for communication with the rest of the LGBT population. Segal specifically saw a strong chance of partnering with a youth organization to create a mentoring program.

"A very popular program to bring about understanding has become a mentoring grandparents project," Segal explained. "In the case of the LGBT community this serves two purposes. The LGBT elders sometimes become the parents that the LGBT youth no longer have, and also teaches younger LGBT the value of our Elder resources."

What all of this unveils is a sense that beyond the already noble goal of providing much-needed low-income housing to the aging LGBT community, the John C. Anderson Apartments hope to represent the growing needs of the people involved in the community. Being one of the first of its kind, and the first to be placed in a primarily gay-inhabited urban neighborhood, it is a guaranteed start to a dialogue with many important organizations for the demographic.

With a common area to come together and political support to go along with it, the senior center is a clear victory for LGBT seniors and will hopefully provide a platform to truly affect change.

"What kind of community are we if we do not care for any of those endangered?" asked Segal. "When you think about it these are the people who brought us to where we are today, our pioneers. We need to respect them and help them live with the dignity they deserve."

For more information on the John C. Anderson Apartments, please visit


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