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    Meeting Future Housing Needs

    By Dr. Marcy Adelman–

    On June 2, Karim Sultan, Vice-President of Affordable Housing at Covia, facilitated a community conversation on LGBT senior housing at the San Francisco LGBT Center. I joined Karyn Skultety, Openhouse Executive Director, and Ilea La Vora from Mercy Housing. I spoke about the history of Openhouse, Skultety addressed issues around the lottery and services, and La Vora explained the financing and history of the Mercy/Openhouse partnership.

    The questions and concerns of community members focused on the lack of affordable housing and the need for innovative programs to help people stay in their homes. Much frustration and disappointment were also expressed about the lottery system and how residents are chosen out of the thousands of housing applicants.

    One 65-year-old gay man with Parkinson’s, who lives on Social Security, shared that he had not succeeded in securing an apartment in the Openhouse building at 55 Laguna. His housing lottery number was too low. He has applied for other housing but has been waitlisted. He expressed fear that, since the apartment he lives in is not in District 8, which has preferred neighborhood status, he will again not be selected for a residence. He said, “A month ago, the building I have lived in since 1980 was put on the market. Right now, I am feeling vulnerable.”

    It is hard—emotionally hard—to apply again. Karyn Skultety acknowledged his feelings of sadness and loss and went on to say, “Too many people are faced with the same heartbreak and loss. Still, it is important to keep applying. You need to apply for 95 Laguna even if you are waitlisted. Please spread the word.”

    Bill Hirsh commented on “the huge cost of trying to build our way out of this housing crisis. We need creative, feasible, less expensive solutions.” He offered that local Section 8’s from General Fund dollars be used to subsidize people aging in place. It is better to keep people in their homes than to resort to building expensive new housing.

    The crisis in LGBTQ senior housing is part of a national housing crisis that affects every one of us. According to a study from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing, gains in the supply of high-end units and losses in low and modest-priced units over the past decade have shifted the entire rental stock toward the high end. (Our Disappearing Supply of Low-Cost Rental Housing, JCSH, June 2107). Major urban areas across the country, such as Austin, Denver, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco have all experienced a major shift and growth to high end rental units between 2005 and 2015.

    A major priority needs to be given to the older adult and senior population. The senior population is growing at an accelerated rate. The number of households headed by people 65 years or older will increase by 66% by 2035. One out of three American households will be headed by someone aged 65 plus. The 80 + population is expected to double between 2015 and 2035. By 2035, one in five Americans will be aged 65 plus. In 2015, almost 44% of older households spent more than one third of their income on housing costs; older renters were twice as likely to spend more than one third of their income for housing than owners.

    We need to start planning now for the future. Building more housing alone is not the answer. Smart urban planning is the answer, and not just building more housing wherever and whenever we can. Transit-oriented density housing will need to take into account, and plan for, the impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

    Density requires a supporting infrastructure of traffic management, small businesses and services, as well as open and green spaces to make it an opportunity for vital, robust living. Work force housing and affordable and accessible senior housing will need to be a planned part of the housing mix. Subsidies would help to keep people in their homes as well as assist developers to build more affordable moderate and low-income rentals.

    LGBTQ senior housing advocates and policy makers need to make sure that LGBTQ welcoming senior housing is a part of any future national, state and city planning. San Francisco offers a unique model of housing and services that other communities wish to emulate. Michael Adams, Executive Director of SAGE, said to me many months back that he wants to replicate, where appropriate, the Openhouse model of LGBTQ senior housing in the SAGE housing communities. Openhouse is a San Francisco non-profit providing housing and services for LGBTQ older adults and people living with disabilities.
    The Openhouse model of LGBTQ senior housing and services is more than just housing and services. It is about building community and creating community services inclusive of all—serving residents of the Openhouse senior housing communities, neighbors and LGBTQ older adults and seniors city wide.

    In recent related news, Dr. Jason Flatt and a team of researchers from UCSF have been awarded a $75,000 grant to study the role of affordable LGBTQ age-friendly housing on the health of LGBTQ older adults. The study, in partnership with Openhouse will examine the influence of affordable housing on the health of LGBTQ older adults. This study is a natural extension of the research team’s current work and will support a longitudinal study on the role of LGBTQ age-friendly housing on the health of LGBTQ older adults nationally.

    In a sweet email, Karyn Skultety wrote, “We believe we have created a unique model of community, housing and support at the Openhouse Community at 55 Laguna, the first affordable LGBT welcoming senior housing in the Bay Area co-developed by Openhouse and Mercy Housing. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to now work with UCSF and the leading researchers in LGBTQ aging, to study and better document the impact of this model as we expand with 79 more units of housing opening next year. It is especially poignant that we will be focused on studying the residents who will move into the housing at 95 Laguna, aptly named the Marcy Adelman and Jeanette Gurevitch Community. We want to make sure that we capture how lives are changed as people move into the LGBT welcoming senior community that they created.”

    Dr. Marcy Adelman is the Co-founder of Openhouse, a Commissioner on the California Commission on Aging, a member of the San Francisco Dignity Fund Oversight and Advisory Committee, and a leading expert on LGBTQ dementia care and policy issues.