LOS ANGELES – Calling it an overdue "environment of tolerance," officials broke ground Thursday for what they called the nation's first nonprofit senior housing facility designed for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults.
The $20 million Encore House (search) in Hollywood will accommodate low-income seniors in 104 rental units and feature a swimming pool and 3,000 square feet of public space.
Expected to open in 2006, it's part of a burgeoning number of retirement communities for older gay Americans. Others, however, are for-profit developments generally for more affluent retirees.
Jack Reauley, 82, and his partner, Bob Claunsh, 80, said they would consider living in the facility as a way to be around people who understand their lifestyles and because of the location.
"It's just a matter of living with other people that you know and live like," said Claunsh, who has been with Reauley since they met in the Army 54 years ago.
Older people are often more discriminatory toward homosexuals than the younger generation, he said.
Gerard Koskovich, an outreach liaison for the American Society on Aging's Lesbian and Gay Aging Issues Network (search), said Encore House will be the first nonprofit facility of its kind in the nation.
As far back as 1956, there were articles in gay magazines about the need for nonprofit housing for gay seniors, said Koskovich, a historian.
"It's taken 50 years for the social mores to change and for the community to reach a critical mass to start such projects," he said.
Brian Neimark, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing, which is building the apartment complex, said the residence will allow gay seniors to live in a safe environment as they increasingly depend on outside care.
"What has had to happen for many older adults is that they've had to go back into the closet to get the care they need," he said. "This would be an environment of tolerance and acceptance."
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's (search) policy institute estimates there are at least 1 million gays 65 and older living in the United States.
Neimark said Encore House will not discriminate against heterosexuals.
"We will not turn someone away," he said. "All that will happen is that we have a policy of tolerance, so at our dances you're going to see same sex couples dancing together."
Rent will be charged on a sliding scale. The residence will be built with a combination of public and private funds, including a grant from the Annenberg Foundation.
In San Francisco, the nonprofit Open House (search) is looking to build a similar affordable housing project.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (search) pledged to work for similar projects. He noted the meaning of the facilities name, Encore House.
"That means, 'we want more,'" he said.