Next City : These LGBTQ Seniors Built Their Own Place to Retire

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Village Hearth in North Carolina is one example of LGBTQ seniors innovating ways of creating truly inclusive housing.

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Next City
Join Lucas Grindley, executive director at Next City, where we believe journalists have the power to amplify solutions and spread workable ideas. Each week Lucas will sit down with trailblazers to discuss urban issues that get overlooked. At the end of the day, it's all about focusing the world's attention on the good ideas that we hope will grow. Grab a seat from the bus, subway, light-rail, or whatever your transit-love may be and listen on the go as we spread solutions from one city to the Next City .

Episode transcripts

Straw media. This is Lucas grimlyfrom next city, a show about change
makers and their stories. Truth is, there are solutions to the problems of
pressing people in cities. If you'relistening, I hope it's because you want
to spread good ideas from one cityto the next. City. On the
show today lgbtq seniors creating welcoming housing. Thank you all for joining us at
this historical opening stonewall house. Asyou all know, we're cutting the ribbon
today and opening New York's first LGBTQ friendly, affordable elder housing projects.
I'm going to live here and I'mgoing to enjoy the best of my life
and I'm not going to be forcedout, picked out on burnt down.
The man you heard cutting the ribbonis a developer from BFC partners, followed
by one of the first residents ofStonewall House, which officially opened two years
ago in Brooklyn. To live there, you must be at least sixty two
years old and earned fifty percent orless of the area median income. The
building is seventeen stories high with ahundred and forty five units, and stonewall
house is completely full. So weobviously need a lot more of this kind
of housing. On the ground flooryou'll find the stage center, a six
thousand eight Hundred Square Foot community centerrun by the organization, which is devoted
to advocating for lgbtq seniors increasingly.What that means is fighting for affordable and
supportive housing. Stonewall house is justone example, though it's the largest of
lgbtq people innovating our way towards safeplaces to grow old. Later in the
show we're going to hear from twowomen, a couple, who founded a
smaller project in Durham, North Carolina. I don't know about you, but
me and my queer friends have oftenthought, wouldn't it be nice if we
could find a way to live togetherand take care of each other as we
get old? That's the exactly whatthey've done in Durham. First let's talk
to Sydney Richardson. She is thedirector of elder housing at stage. I
wonder if you can help everyone tounderstand the lived experiences of someone who is
right now and during senior housing thereat that stage of their life, because
I don't know if everyone would understandwhat folks have gone through. Absolutely so
lgbt Q plus elders are often moresocially isolated because they are far less likely
to have biological or traditional notions ofchildren, are more likely to live alone,
more likely to be estranged from familiesof origin, and this impacts everything
from health to economic status to theirability to find safe and affordable housing.
We also see disparate health outcomes,differences in cognitive decline, even due to
kind of collective trauma or issues oftrauma. We also see that finding inclusive
long term care or retirement communities canbe especially challenging because of both the kind
of overt discrimination that we see inspaces that are biased or or demonstrate deep
prejudice, as well as the kindof microaggressions or more insidious levels of just
not reaching people where they're at andnot addressing the needs of lgbt Q plus
elders face. I imagine you talkedwith a lot of lgbt seniors in your
work. What do they tell youabout their concerns about, you know,
entering retirement community? Well, Ithink first off is aging generations. Are
that our generations. So when wethink of the kind of federal definition of
sixty two plus, even that isincludes generations of people an experience of fear.
Sixty two, or says, yourseventy five versus your ninety. You've
lived through really different times. Butone thing that we do see across the
board is that many people are maybenot used to being out in their lives
and that might be a safety mechanism, a survival mechanism, it might also
be culturally just a piece of thetime that someone came up in. So
that can impact how someone feels aboutaccessing or being open with their doctor about
their medical needs as they age.It can impact the ways that people do
or don't find community through affinity andwe also see elders often going back into
the closet when it becomes time to, you know, potentially find a new
place to live or an aging carefacility because of the lack of cultural competency,
Um and just fear that happens withchange and moving into a space that
is maybe more institutional. We alsohave seen the deep impact of the pandemic
on lgbt Q plus elders, thekind of resurgence of the trauma of HIV
and loss that many elders faced andsomething that we have seen at stage,
particularly in our buildings in Brooklyn andand the Bronx has been just deep isolation
and and food scarcity. The culminationof those things not only produces, you
know, compounds isolation that can reallylead to rapid cognitive, mental, health
physical decline. I really did notrealized that that the combination of all these
factors leads to or speeds up yourown decline. You see this happening?
Yes, yeah, and there's notenough data on queer seniors because of the
legacy of an invisibility. Queer seniorshave always existed, trans seniors have always
existed, but because of violence andthe risk of violence and because of people
refusing to see that, our communitieshave not been captured in data. But
there is a researcher, Dr JasonFlat at the University of Las Vegas,
who has done a lot of researchon lgbt Q plus aging and a recent
study came out around dementia and reallylooking at the higher levels of dementia in
Lgbt q plus seniors, pointing tonot only can you just understand the kind
of direct impacts of oppression, butreally how this impacts brain decline. And
you see that in many populations thathave experienced forms of violence and oppression,
but it's interesting to really see withaging how things can speed up so much
due to trauma and violence. Soit becomes critically important that you find a
place that is welcoming, inclusive supportive. What examples are you seeing across the
country of that kind of housing beingcreated? So I think that intentional community
is a piece of queer narrative andhistory. That is just a part of
who we are Um and so Iwant to say that's not new, where
people have always cultivated community to surviveand to thrive amidst hardship. But there
is a growing field in the housingworld of developing what we often talk about
is this specific model of lgbt qplus affirming or friendly, affordable senior housing,
and these are senior housing buildings thathave popped up across the country and
that can look different ways. Sostage has been a part of two buildings
and, like I mentioned, Brooklynand the Bronx with the stage center,
so a senior center on the firstfloor, both for the residents in the
building and for the external community.We have leaders in the field like the
John C Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia,the town hall apartments in Chicago and Open
House has some residences in San Francisco. They're popping up around the country and
it's really this combination of affordable housingand service provision. But it's not just
service provision, you know, likecase management, which can be really helpful
in someone aging in place and maintainingtheir apartment, but also what does it
mean, especially to address this isolationissue, to have affinity spaces, because
there are still so many barriers,so many disparities and such isolation. Affinity
is actually a way to address healthinsecurity, housing insecurity and for people to
better thrive together. So the cultivationof community can be really tremendous in addressing
some of these aging needs that wesee pop up for Queer elders, and
these buildings are are modeling ways ofdoing that. They're one in Houston,
there's some more going up in Texas, there's one being built in Boston,
there's a new one in Seattle.So people are seeing this need and also
housing developers are seeing this. Iguess market and people are really coming together
in the community to say let's makethis happen. As as this does become
a more visible need for elders communityand chosen family have been essential to being
lgbtq throughout our lives, maybe evenmore so as we age up. Next
we'll learn about an LGBTQ focused exampleof CO housing. WHAT IS CO housing?
Learn more after the break. Welcomeback to next city on the show.
Today. There is a need forsafe, affordable retirement housing for lgbtq
seniors. Pat mcauley and Margaret Rouchare the founders of village hearth, a
Co housing development in Durham, NorthCarolina. When next city first reported on
this project back in they had presold twenty four of the homes planned for
the community and they just closed ona construction loan. Today, every home
is sold and everybody has moved in. When each person was ready to move
into their house, we uh theygot a welcome basket that had a bottle
of champagne, or are you know, non Alcoholic Champagne, and other little
goodies. So probably we did atoast around most inmost each person's celebration of
moving in, except that we didthem all outside on the porches, on
the sidewalks. We didn't go intothe indoors together at all, especially at
first. So we had masks anddistancing. Thanksgiving was our first meal together
and it was a pot look outdoorson the terrorists in at Thanksgiving in North
Carolina. Um. So, uh, it was. It was nice.
We were still distanced and such.In Christmas that year we did a progressive
dessert thing, um on the portraits. So yeah, we had to make
do with not being in our commonhouse at all together and, Um,
not having community meals as we hadplanned at that time. Can you describe
for people? You mentioned there's acommon house. What else is there?
There's the everybody has their own houseand there's a common house. What else
is there? M Mark, youwanted that, sure I'll go through what's
in the Common House so you knowwhat we the things that we share.
We do have a nice big kitchenthat's I don't know how many people can
cook in it once, but morethan one. and Um, we have
a big dining room with which iskind of a multi purpose room, and
a sitting room and we have alaundry and we have a little guest room,
we have an exercise room, acraft through, a little office,
uh, and our mailboxes are inside. So that first year, if you
went in to do your laundry orget your mail. You were supposed to
stay away from any other people.It was very odd. But the other
things that we have on our land. We have a woodworking shop with a
lot of equipment stored in it,our outdoor spaces where we have some benches,
we have few tables and umbrellas anda meadow that's got to bring a
oak trees with a compost pile.We also have a dog park, a
small dog park, Um, andwe've got some trails through the woods that
one of our neighbors is developing Umcutting his way through. That sounds peaceful.
Do you have a favorite place youlike to be? Pat Um,
I love the terrorists on the CommonHouse. It's a nice big patio and
it looks out over green and Ican see most of the homes from there.
Even with social distancing, a wonderfulcommunity is taking shape and pat and
Margaret were able to pull it off. But absolutely no development experience, as
I understand that this was the twoof you had this idea together and now
you've brought it to life. Idon't know that many people can say that
they ever had that experience, soI wonder what that's like on its own.
It's pretty unreal Um, to youknow, looking back on it,
to think that that the two ofus who had no development experience, um
at all, no financial experience atall, but relying on the professionals to
guide us and just taking it stepby step. And that's, you know,
that's kind of in my nature.Is, okay, what's the next
thing? What's the next thing?And we got there. Well, I'm
I'm totally the opposite of the pets. Step by step, you know,
you gotta do the top thing onthe list. I just want to get
to the end result. And,uh, what I love is the fact
that every morning when I wake up, I almost always hear my neighbors chatting
there on their porches with their coffeeor whatever. I hear people somewhere on
the land doing something, and Ijust I realized that these are people who
chose to to get to know eachother and to care about each other and
and here they are. I meansometimes pat and I will just look at
each other and we'll go it reallyhappened, we're really here. So it's
Um, you know, an awfullot of people had to take a leap
of faith to put their money inbefore we had anything even before we had
our plans, uh, you know, drawn up. So what was the
sales pitch to the people who joinedthe community? What was the thing that
made them take that leap of faithto care about each other? Wow,
that's that's a good question. Um, I think we were all looking at
how our parents and other older folksin our lives, how they were aging
and how, Um, sometimes youended up in Um an accessi living or
a nursing home or ended up withdimension needing memory care, and some of
those places are really grim and mostof them are just don't accommodate anybody who's
not the norm. So buff peoplego back in the closet or they don't
get acknowledged that they have partners orhad partners or spouses and Um. So
I think we we were telling people, you know this, this is a
different vision. This is something we'rechoosing now, while we're able bodied and
we can um make this decision,instead of waiting until there's a medical crisis
and someone else might be choosing wherewe're going to live. Um that and
being able to bond with people whowere close to us an age and you
know, we've all been through thesame steps, no matter where we grew
up or where we have lived.We've all had similar challenges of you know,
times when it wasn't safe to holdhands or to be a couple.
You had mentioned that a lot ofpeople in the community felt like they've had
shared experiences. Um, have youever experienced discrimination in housing where you've lived
before? Yeah, I did actually, as a single person, many,
many years ago. Um, Iwas threatened with a lawsuit because a female
friend of mine was sharing my apartmentfor this summer and we had it was
a one bedroom apartment and the propertymanager said, you're that's against the law
for two women to be in aone bedroom apartment and you need to get
that person an out of their immediatelyharmon call a police and it was like,
I mean, I didn't even x. You know, I hadn't thought
about that in years, but thatcame to mind not too long agoing.
I mean it was blatant. Ofcourse we have no protection. It's not
where like a protected class. That'sright. In many states, lgbtq people
can be fired for being gay andthere's no federal law banning a landlord from
discriminating against lgbtq people in housing.By the way, that's part of what
the proposed Quality Act is trying toachieve in Congress. Much of what is
legal about discrimination depends on who isin the White House and how their administration
interprets laws that are not explicit.Actually to comply with fair housing laws,
both stonewall house and village hearth haveto be clear that these developments aren't exclusively
for lgbtq people. They have towelcome everyone and to find the right people
they'll use language like lgbtq focused orfriendly. Pat and Margaret say village hearth
is probably about comprised of lgbtq people. What this community is called technically,
is it's a form of CO housing. Right. So how would you define
what Co housing is? Um,what I always say is that we have
agreed to be good neighbors. Wewanted to know each other and be aware
without being nosy or getting in somebody'sface about things. Um, we we
want to have the kind of ofuh, neighborhood and communities that a lot
of people either had when they werechildren or their parents did, where you
could run in and out of eachother's homes and you uh, you did,
you help people, you took youknow, the casserole when when there
was an illness, and you,you know, you all those things that
we've lost because people in traditional neighborhoodsthey drive in their garages, get out
of their cars and and they nevertalked to their neighbors. That we we
try to shield what we're doing inour homes in America and we put up
big fences and, you know,have garages and and so this this idea
of being very open, having towalk from your car to your home past,
you know, several other people's homesand what you know? You might
have to stop and visit for aminute or you might get offered a beer.
You never know what what's going tohappen. Yeah, some other aspects
of CO housing particularly is about cooperationand collaboration and making decisions together. Um,
we are legally and h o a, a homeowners association, and every
home is a board member of theH O a. So there's not this
four or five people who are makingdecisions for everyone, but we're all responsible
for not only making decisions but alsofor doing the work that we need to
do around the community to maintain it. Um. So, and some of
those decisions are we're too old tobe on the ladder to do this.
So we're going to hire to havethis done. But then that means,
you know, we've made the decisiontogether that we're going to pay for a
service. And I know one ofthe parts of the idea, as you
mentioned, was to help each otherout as you age. How is that
playing out in real life now?Are you seeing examples? Oh Yeah,
this group knows how to how tojump in when when someone needs some help,
whether it's an emergency or whether it'ssomething that's playing like knee replacement surgery,
where somebody is going to need rides, they're going to need somebody to
walk their their dogs for a coupleof weeks or months or whatever, and
all those kinds of things. Sojust the kinds of things that we call
friendly, neighborly kinds of things.Um, within the first week somebody had
fallen off a ladder and shattered hisfoot and by the time his wife came
from the emergency room, uh,you know, they had they had food
in line, they had the catstaken care of, they had this and
that, you know, just everythingyou can think of. So that kind
of helping, it's no problem.Everybody has an idea of what needs to
happen, and we even have acare team that might coordinate that and say,
okay, this person is going touh need some support for a week
or a month or whatever. Ifsomebody has a mobility problem, we may
say, does anybody have a wheelchairor a Walker that they can borrow?
Um, so we've been passing arounda lot of the derbal medical equipment or
things like, can I try yourwhatever and see if I want to buy
that for myself? So, uh, that has been very useful and one
of the things that we said topeople all along is that this isn't assistant
living or, you know, anursing home. and Um, if you
were still in your own home andyou we're going to need some daily care,
you would have to hire an aid. Um, then that's what you're
gonna do. It, Billy Charve, because we're not agreeing to give people
showers, you know. But ifyou know you need to drive to the
doctor, you need somebody to pickup your groceries, you need, you
know, prescription, you need somebodyto open your pill bottle, like pat
has to do for me this onekind of pills, like can't open the
bottle. And Uh, so Iwould say that we're doing a lot of
a lot of the filling in thekind of neighborly things, so that that's
working really well here, I think. Yeah, and we did um within
well, just after our first yearanniversary of being open, we had one
of our residents who had a strokeand ended up in the hospital and then
ultimately died um and her sister camefrom California and stayed in her home so
she could be comfortable and then shecould, you know, kind of hang
out with us and hear stories abouther sister and, you know, keep
us connected without inundating them at thehospital. And of course we know the
cat was taken care of and andshe could come home to somebody inviting her
for a meal. And after theresident died, then we did a memorial
service and planet a tree and weunfortunately had that experience, but you know,
we knew what to do when peopledo come together in times of need.
The residents of village hearthur there foreach other. This type of housing
development, called Co Housing, isnotorious for having a pretty high rate of
failure. These projects don't always cometogether after the brake. We'll get some
tips on how village hearth was ableto pull it off. Welcome back to
next city on the show this week. Village hearth is a CO housing development
for lgbtq seniors in North Carolina.Buying the land cost a hundred and nine
dollars. Then the property had tobe rezoned and annexed into Durham. Eventually,
homes started at two dollars and allwere sold. But the odds were
against any of this ever happening.Co Housing developments have a high failure rate,
so I asked Co founders Pat mcauleyand Margaret Roush for the secret to
their success. So what has keptyou all going? What advice do you
have? Hire a professional, hirea consultant from the beginning to to lead
you through the process. And therare except to that would be is if
you have a team of folks whoare familiar with development and finance and Um
and that sort of thing, youmight be able to make it then,
but you still need somebody then tohelp you with the soft side, the
cohousing side. Our development consultant gotUS started from the very beginning. Um
each step of the way, andyou know when we found the land,
six months and you know. Wecalled her and said we got this land,
Um, this is what it isshould and it was cheap. We
said should we buy it? Andshe said yes, buy it and if,
if it doesn't work out, ifyou can't get the zoning changed,
then Um, you can go aheadturn around and sell it, you know.
And so you know, just havingthat assurance that it's not the end
of the world, potentially anyway.If, if we went ahead with that.
And how did you even find aprofessional to work with? There's a
National Co Housing Association and there areprofessionals who advertised through there. It wasn't
quite that organized back in when westarted, but there's a book, the
Senior Co Housing Handbook, and thenUm, the author of that and his
wife are the ones who brought cohousing to the US from Denmark in the
late eighties, and so they're verywell known. And we went to a
conference and made an appointment ahead oftime to meet with with Katie mccammon and
ask her if she would take uson as a client. So how can
we make sure more LGBTQ seniors getto enjoy retirement? I asked Sidney Richardson
from stage what is needed. Itall comes down to resources and access.
Well, part of the challenges thatwe cannot build our way out of the
problem Um housing. Building housing takestime and it takes a lot of work
and a lot of money. Um, in an ideal world, part of
part of the answer would be tojust create more affordable housing period. That's
what we need in this country.I think recognizing and seeing these models and
talking to tenants and talking to eldersin the community just around what they need
and listening. It sounds simple,but stage we're working with some folks in
a few cities that at the verybeginning phases of doing this, and you
really shouldn't be starting from anywhere.But let's talk to people in the community,
find out where they are and askthem what they need. And I
also think just working in the housingdevelopment field, showcasing this as a model,
showing that you can build this withinUm you know the regulations of Fair
Housing Law and you can work withthe low income housing tax credit to really
make this happen and to fill aknee that, despite kind of stereotypes of
Queer elders being, you know,White, middle to upper class, SIS
gender gay men, it's a muchwider diverse population in need of deep vulnerability
and so sharing that knowledge, thatinformation, and and also really going to
where people are at and asking themwhat fits their communities. Those are some
of the key considerations that I thinkcan really help build what is kind of
a movement towards this. You know, I'll ask you to look into the
future and I'm not sure what yousee in terms of the need for this
kind of housing, you know,three more generations from now. You know,
it's interesting, as a forty yearold queer person, to look to
my elders and look to the youthand just be kind of in the middle
of of ages and think about justhow different things are for young people than
they were for me. Even Ithink there's a lot of hope that the
culture shift around Um, not justacceptance but but queerness thriving and being a
part of discourse, part of community. Um is going to look really different,
and so we might not need Umlgbt q plus affirming affordable housing because
of dire safety issues right. ButI think there's also a piece of this
well, if we can start toaddress the deep vulnerability and the lack of
housing access Um, there's still,I think, in the media need for
affordable housing for Queer people and formany people um that are vulnerable in the
state of our current political status andmoving forward. But I also think there
is a lot of emphasis on traumaand violence, which is definitely a part
of our collective history, and alsoso is joy and brilliance and creativity,
and so another piece of this thatI like to remind myself of at times
is in the future, I hopethat LGBT Publis affirming senior housing still exists
because of that joy and creativity andhistory and what narrative can do to remind
us all of where we have beenand where we can be. So that
hopefulness, I think, can alsobe a part of what we can aim
for in the future, hoping thatthere's less of a die our need and
more of just a celebration of wherewe come from and who we are.
That's absolutely where I want to livein that future. Thanks for your work,
Sydney. Thank to thank you somuch. We hope you enjoyed this
episode of next city show about changemakers and their stories. Together we can
spread good ideas from one city tothe next city. Thank you for listening
this week. Thank you to ourguests Sydney Richardson from stage and PAT mcauley
and Margaret Rouch from village hearth.Our audio producer is Sylvana Alcala. Our
scriptwriter is Francesco Mamlin, our executiveproducers are Tyler Nielsen and Ryan Tillotson,
and I'm Lucas Gridley, executive directorfor next city. By the way,
next city is a news organization witha nonprofit model. If you like what
we're doing here, please consider pitchingin to support our work. visit next
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