Chicago will soon break ground on one of the first affordable housing centers in America meant for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered seniors, and to some, the adventure is seen as a new frontier.
With construction slated for this winter, the senior housing development at 3600 N. Halsted in Lake View is addressing a booming need for the aging LGBT community.
Brian Richardson is the Director of Public Affairs for the Center on Halsted, a community group in Lake View dedicated to the LGBT community. He says addressing the aging population has been a concern and a challenge for some time.
“This is the first generation that fought at Stonewall,” Richardson said. “They were the first generation that woke up everyone about AIDS. They came out of the closet first and really changed the world for generations behind them. They’re also now the first generation, in large, who are aging.”
Joined by the Heartland Housing, a nonprofit specializing in affordable housing, the Center on Halsted will open a six-story LGBT-friendly senior facility directly next to its community center in the heart of Boystown.
“That is the same building where some of our seniors were once arrested and held for being gay... That is a fantastic metaphor.”
The Chicago Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners voted in favor Sept. 18 of the $21 million project. It will feature almost 80 units for seniors with retail space on the first floor.
And while half of the new housing center will be built on a vacant lot, the other half will renovate and use the more than 100-year-old vacant police station, a move that has deeper meaning than preserving a historical building.
“That is the same building where some of our seniors were once arrested and held for being gay,” Richardson said. “Now they’ll be living in an LGBT home that’s sprouted from that very police station. That is a fantastic metaphor.”
The project is slated to be finished sometime in the spring of 2014, and according to Richardson, everything down to the paintings on the walls will be catered to the gay and lesbian crowd. While the new center won’t discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation, it will be clear to seniors that community life at this home will be very different.
The Center on Halsted is currently holding focus groups with LGBT seniors to identify what aspects should be different than a traditional housing facility. Survey results show the generation with long history just wants to feel accepted.
“If you go to most residential communities for seniors, there are pictures of straight families on the walls,” Richardson said. “There are activities like the Sadie Hawkins dance where the girls ask the guys. Those types of memories aren’t always good ones for this generation… So it’s about making a place where you can be trans, gay or a lesbian.”
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The CHA contract awarded to the Center on Halsted and Heartland Housing under the Housing Choice Voucher Program is capped at $970,800 annually, and $29,124,000 over 30 years, according to the Windy City Times. That means seniors on the CHA waiting list can opt to live at the new LGBT facility if there is space available, if they are 55 years old or older, and if they qualify for the voucher program.
Funding for the project comes from a number of sources. According to Director of Real Estate Development at Heartland Housing, Hume An, the organization is joining the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, Illinois Affordable Housing Tax Credit and federal historic tax credit, among many others, to pay for the facility.
And according to Richardson, the Center is getting calls and e-mails almost daily from seniors who want more information about it.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who told the Times this has been a dream of his for at least seven years, spoke about the project again Oct. 11 during the Legacy Walk dedication. To him, this is another moment in history for the LGBT community.
“We are moving forward as a city by recognizing that lesbians and gays need senior affordable housing in their community,” Tunney said to a thunderous round of applause and cheers. “The Center on Halsted is working with Heartland because we will have many more days to celebrate, and many other historical projects that we will be doing together.”