Written by Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, National LGBTQ Task Force, this post was originally featured on The National LGBTQ Task Force blog on March 3, 2015.
Walking into the Eisenhower Office Building in the White House complex on February 10, I realized that I was crossing what has the potential to be a historic threshold for the LGBT community – I was entering a full day meeting with Obama administration officials around the issue of LGBT aging and, more specifically, affordable housing for LGBT elders.
Thanks to the work and advocacy of SAGE and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Administration was embarking on a conversation that should have happened years ago but now has taken on more of a crisis-like tone.
Think about it: today in the U.S. there are four affordable rental housing projects focused on LGBT elders – with a total of 285 units to fill that role.
Now reflect on the reality that there are around 2 million LGBT folks who are 65 and older – our elders – and that number is expected to reach 3 million by 2030 – only 15 years from now.
So where are these thousands – probably hundreds of thousands – of LGBT elders going to find safe, secure, respectful and affordable rentals if we only have less than 300 units now spread across the country?
There are 104 units in LA at Triangle Square, the first affordable rental project for LGBT elders which opened in 2007. Then in September 2013 Minneapolis joined in with its 46 units at Spirit on Lake, followed by 56 units in early 2014 at the John Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia and 79 apartments at the Town Hall development in Chicago that opened later in 2014. And, yes, there are more projects on the drawing boards but even these, if successfully developed won’t make a dent in the need.
That’s the context that surrounded the White House Conference on LGBT Elder Housing that took place on February 10, 2015.
Five panels, filled with some of the most knowledgeable people about aging issues, elder housing and public policy, covered the needs, options, resources, legal rights and policy changes required to meet the housing requirements of LGBT seniors .
The audience was made up of a who’s who of LGBT aging activists and allies as well as senior management of major government departments that deal with housing development and senior care issues.
The panel presentations were thorough and insistent while questions and comments were thoughtful and probing.
Keynote speaker for the gathering was Jennifer Ho, Senior Advisor on Housing and Services for the Department of Housing and Urban Development who brought a supportive message around commitment to LGBT elders but also tempered with the reality of a lack of both resources and Congressional support.
A major feature of the day was a listening session where participants in the conference were able to pose questions and concerns to representatives of the Administration, including Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging with the Department of Health and Human Services, and Nora Super, Executive Director of the White House Conference on Aging.
Audience comments were far ranging, passionate and covered a variety of needs and concerns for LGBT elders.
Takeaways from the Affordable Elder Housing Conference include the already established fact that there is a growing and critical need for housing that is safe, respectful and affordable for LGBT seniors plus the concomitant reality that given the lack of financial resources we are not going to be able to build our way out of the issue.
But, as one of the panelists proclaimed, we can effectively respond to the challenge with a combination of approaches including new affordable housing development, appropriate training for senior care providers and more intensive research around the needs and concerns of LGBT elders.
The White House Conference was a start of comprehensive conversations with government agencies and entities that can make these approaches of development, training and research work across the nation. We will be watching, waiting and witnessing to see if it turns out to be a historic beginning for a safe, secure, affordable housing future for our LGBT elders.