Plans underway for gay senior housing center

Published by Jen Colletta in the Philadelphia Gay News on September 9, 2010.

Philadelphia is now one step closer to adding its name to the short list of American cities that offers a housing complex for LGBT elders.

The board of directors of the William Way LGBT Community Center met with representatives of LGBT grantmaking agency the Dr. Magnus Hirschfield Fund on Tuesday and consented to proceed on a proposed LGBT senior assisted-living center.

The center would be situated directly next door to William Way, and construction, spearheaded by Pennrose Development, would involve the current adjoining building being torn down and replaced by a new facility that could accommodate about 40 residents.

The Hirschfield Fund is applying for federal, state and city funding to cover the $20-million project, and the William Way board this week voted to support the grant applications.

Chris Bartlett, executive director of the center, said that while the board is backing the effort, it does plan to give it extensive thought as the project moves forward.

“The board is going to take the time to review the impact of the project on the center’s mission and finances,” Bartlett said. “We felt it was important for us to proceed carefully and think about how this project fits strategically with the center.”

Mark Segal, president of the Hirschfield Fund and PGN publisher, also cautioned that the project is “not a done deal.”

“We need the support of the community and for our elected officials to follow through with their commitments,” he said, adding, “A major thanks to the board at the [center] for allowing us to proceed with our upcoming grant proposal. They showed true leadership.”

State Rep. Mike O’Brien (D-175th Dist.) has been pressing for state funding for the housing project and said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the state will provide the needed funds.

O’Brien said the state has a duty to protect its seniors, especially those who face increased marginalization like those in the LGBT community.

“At the end of the day, society gets judged on how we treat our children and our old,” O’Brien said. “I truly believe we have a moral obligation to take care of older folks, and the issues they face are exacerbated in the LGBT community. I’ve seen many friends over the years whose partners have passed away and who are left alone and have a hard time getting by. I think age-enhanced communities are important to begin with, and even more so in the LGBT community so there can be a place where folks can age with dignity.”

Currently, there are only about 25 other LGBT-specific senior homes in the country, and the Philadelphia facility would be the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. Within the region, an LGBT retirement community planned for Milton, Del., is on hold until at least 2012.

The initiative has seen support from Gov. Rendell, who has participated in talks about the project with organizers.