Gay Assisted Living Facility Seen as Filling a Growing Need
MINNEAPOLIS -- Lucretia Kirby was on her own for the first time in years after her partner’s death. She felt stranded in a church-affiliated assisted living facility, where she said bigotry and even physical threats were ignored by building managers. Russ Lovaasen was infected with HIV in 1982. Decades of medication and its side effects left him prematurely aged at 62, and unable to afford a place of his own. Harvey Hertz, a gay man who came out decades ago, was terrified that moving into a retirement community would force him back into the closet. He’d seen it happen.
Since September, Hertz, Kirby and Lovaasen have joined others as the charter residents at Spirit on Lake, a 46-unit affordable housing complex marketed to older members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. (Its library is pictured above.) Only the second building of its kind in the United States -- more are under construction or planned in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco -- Spirit on Lake’s backers say it fills a growing need for a generation of openly gay people now reaching their twilight years.
"GLBT seniors have significant issues. They’re growing old in many cases in isolation, in fear," said Barbara Satin, a 79-year-old transgender activist described by building residents as "the matriarch of Spirit on Lake."
Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, a New York-based group, estimates there are 1.5 million openly gay elderly people in the U.S. -- a number expected to double by 2030. Many of them, Satin said, "don’t experience the freedom that GLBT people now experience." Less likely to have children or grandchildren, they came of age in a time when gay people were often rejected by their families.
Satin spent her first 60 years living as a man. She came out as transgender not long after retiring from a corporate career, and later became involved with a small United Church of Christ congregation started by like-minded activists. Their "queer church," as she called it, worshipped in an old warehouse on Lake Street, a major thoroughfare in south Minneapolis. They named the church Spirit of the Lakes.
About a decade ago, as that stretch of Lake Street attracted urban redevelopers, church members decided to merge with a larger UCC congregation. At the same time, Satin and a few others had formed a group to bring attention to issues facing gay seniors. "We decided, let’s do something with our property that would aid GLBT seniors, and that’s where this housing project came from," said Satin, whose portrait now hangs in the building’s lobby.
With help from PRG, an affordable housing advocacy group, Satin and collaborators cobbled together funds from nonprofits and local governments. They found a main-floor occupant in Quatrefoil, a small lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual-oriented library that for years had been housed in a St. Paul basement.
To qualify as an affordable housing complex under federal law, Spirit on Lake cannot require tenants to be either gay or elderly. Single applicants qualify by earning $28,500 a year or less. Rent is $720 for a one-bedroom apartment and $870 for a two-bedroom unit.