Caring Currents

Gay and Lesbian Seniors Find Housing Niche

Last updated: Nov 04, 2008

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Adjusting to a communal living setting is always challenging, and if you're in a caregiving role to an elder who has recently moved into a retirement community, you can expect to get a frantic call or two early on -- maybe even a "Get me out of here!"

Usually, time resolves these settling-in anxieties. But there's one group of seniors who often face an extra set of challenges. Across the country, gay and lesbian elders who've moved to retirement communities report being ostracized, mocked, and harassed not only by fellow residents, but also sometimes by staff.

One state, California, has responded with a law aimed at preventing anti-gay bias in senior care facilities through staff training.

Another answer is retirement communities developed with the needs of gays and lesbians specifically in mind. The few already in business have waiting lists, and the others now in development are likely to see a booming business. UCLA researchers have estimated that there are 2.4 million gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans over age 55 -- roughly the population of Nevada.

In a survey by MetLife, a quarter of aging gays and lesbians named discrimination as one of their top fears about aging, and less than half expressed trust that health providers would treat them with dignity as they aged. Given these concerns, it shouldn't be surprising that gay and lesbian-specific communities are cropping up across the country.

Here are a few examples -- some open for business and others in the works:

  • RainbowVision in Santa Fe, New Mexico offers both independent and assisted living, plus access to a spa and fitness center. The company has new properties planned for Palm Springs, Vancouver, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • An affordable choice for those who've always dreamed of a Florida retirement, The Resort on Carefree Boulevard offers RV lots beginning at $70,000, and "manufactured homes" in the $200,000 range.
  • Fiction meets reality at Oakland, California's Barbary Lane Senior Communities, an independent living community based on writer Armistead Maupin's famous tale about a tight-knit community in San Francisco in the 1980s. Marketed as "gay friendly," the soon-to-open property will welcome heterosexuals as well. Includes 700-square-foot apartments with universal design kitchens and community gathering spots. Maupin himself is the company spokesman, and the corporate motto is "Closets are for clothes, not for seniors."
  • Fountaingrove Lodge in Santa Rosa, California is only in the pre-construction stage, but the continuing care retirement community already has a waiting list. The developer is Aegis Living, which already runs more than 130 communities across the West Coast.

The fact that a major developer is throwing its hat into the gay and lesbian housing market indicates that this is no passing fancy. Like other creative housing options springing up to meet the varied needs of the coming "age boom, " supply is meeting demand in innovative -- and likely lasting -- ways.

Photo by Flickr user philwarnerunder a Creative Commons attribution license.