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April 14, 2017

Meet Kelly Kent, SAGE's National Housing Initiative Director

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Kelly Kent brings almost two decades of experience to his role as director of SAGE’s National Housing Initiative, a new one at the organization. Kent, who divides his time between his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, and SAGE’s New York City offices, talks about his rich background, what brought him back the Midwest, and the critical need for institutions like Citi that are helping establish models for older LGBT housing communities across the country.

SAGE: How did you end up in Kansas City?
Kelly Kent: I returned to Kansas City a few years ago after being gone for more than 16 years. Since my parents were dealing with so many health issues associated with aging, it was important for me to be accessible to them at this time in their lives. Witnessing their experiences also has helped shape my professional life in the way that it intersects health and housing for aging adults.

You have a long career as an advocate for affordable, fair housing for vulnerable populations. How did you become involved in this area?
My work in affordable and fair housing for vulnerable populations has spanned almost 20 years. I first realized my passion for this work when I volunteered as a buddy at an AIDS housing project in 1995 when I was an undergrad at the University of Kansas. At the time, HIV/AIDS housing was often more assisted living or a hospice. I saw firsthand how affordable housing is a basic foundation in a tenant’s overall healthcare engagement. That experience helped solidify my dedication to that work. I was always interested in social justice and even concentrated much of my undergraduate studies on African-American studies.

Based on those first experiences, I became even more determined to complete my master’s degree in urban planning with an emphasis on housing policy and real estate finance. I interned for the Assistant Secretary of Fair Housing at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C., and then the rest evolved as my professional education evolved. The passion remained over the course of time. Ensuring vulnerable populations have access to safe, stable housing makes a difference in their lives.

What drew you to SAGE?
Given my background, I have always had an affinity for working within the LGBT community. Once I moved back to Kansas City and experienced my own parents’ engagement with the healthcare system, I became motivated to begin coursework in gerontology to better understand the service needs of our rapidly growing older adult population. This led me to developing and overseeing a local public-private demonstration with a local hospital system, local governments, nonprofits, and corporate partners around the concept of aging in place. This was coupled with care coordination for seniors experiencing high rates of readmission to local Kansas City hospitals. I am convinced this is an issue the majority of communities have yet to effectively engage.

I met some of the SAGE staff at the American Society of Aging conference several years and told them about my interest in housing-related work for this population. When SAGE decided to increase its efforts in providing affordable housing for older LGBT adults late last year, I received a call from them.

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