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Fountaingrove, Openhouse: housing for LGBT seniors

June 26, 2011 — By Carolyn Said — San Francisco Chronicle

Two disparate residential communities in the Bay Area targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors at different ends of the economic spectrum are regaining momentum after stalling during the recession.

In Upper Market, Openhouse, a social services agency for LGBT older adults, aims to create 109 units of affordable housing for low-income seniors in a former UC Berkeley Extension building, opening in the next four to five years.

In Sonoma County, Oakmont Senior Living, a for-profit developer, is building the 92-unit Fountaingrove Lodge in Santa Rosa, which it says is the first continuing-care community aimed at the LGBT population. It combines independent living, assisted living and an Alzheimer's/dementia care center. A model cottage and an information center opened last week; the rest of the campus should be ready in early 2013.

Openhouse and Fountaingrove will join a handful of other gay-friendly senior residences nationwide.

"Housing is a huge issue for older members of the LGBT community," said Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), a New York social services agency that runs the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging ( www.lgbtagingcenter.org). "The particular issues that arise for LGBT folks are needing a place that is accepting, welcoming, comfortable, where they can be who they are. Communities like Openhouse and Fountaingrove are responsive to that need; these are really important communities to be developed."

Both complexes will accept straight residents, too.

A third Bay Area LGBT retirement community, Oakland's Barbary Lane, opened in 2008 but fell victim to the recession and is now under new management as a general-population senior residence. Fountaingrove

Fountaingrove Lodge ( www.fountaingrovelodge.com) held a chi-chi party for potential residents and investors this month to celebrate the completion of its first buildings.

Partygoers took golf-cart tours of the oak-studded, 10-acre property, driving past signs denoting future facilities such as "Library," "Restaurant" and "Art Studio." Marketing staffers pointed out the adjacent golf course and country club.

"I like the idea of aging in place in style and having a nice time along the way," said Lorraine Lombardo, 58, as waiters circulated with hors d'oeuvres and a jazz trio played. A San Francisco police officer, she put down a deposit on a Fountaingrove unit although she's still five years away from retirement. She looked at other communities but thinks Fountaingrove's population will be "a little younger and maybe a little more fun."

Bill and Cindy Gallaher, Fountaingrove's husband and wife developers, have built more than 30 senior projects throughout California, Nevada and Washington.

The impetus for the gay-friendly senior residence came after they built a senior community in Fremont that they successfully marketed to Chinese seniors. That got them thinking about niche markets, Cindy Gallaher said.

"Sonoma County is so LGBT-friendly that when this property became available about six years ago we felt that it would be a good fit," she said. In talking to LGBT seniors, "we found that individuals from this group want to move to a community where they can relax, be secure, be supported and feel safe," she said.

Fountaingrove will charge an entry fee of $295,000 to $925,000; it is entirely refundable if the resident moves or passes away. Monthly fees will be from $2,395 to $5,900. Units will range from 830 to 2,001 square feet with six stand-alone bungalows, 64 apartments, 22 dementia-care units and 12 affordable employee- housing units.

Among the oohs and aahs over the three-bedroom model Craftsman cottage, some visitors expressed reservations about the cost.

"I don't know how affordable this is for most lesbians who live in Sonoma County," said Windflower Townley, 62, an organizational development consultant. "I can't imagine many of us being able to afford it, so I'm disappointed. We went to so many meetings to talk about creating this."

Many people who move to senior communities pay their entrance fee with the proceeds of a home sale, but several visitors pointed out that Sonoma home values have slid dramatically.

Still, potential residents said they felt drawn to the complex.

Taura Anderson, 60, visiting Fountaingrove with her sister Bonnie Harito and her "schnoodle" Newt, plans to retire in two years as a special education director in Santa Clara County.

"Growing up I remember voting on things like if openly gay people could be trusted to be around children as teachers," she said. "Now to be able to live in a community where the majority of the people are similar to me would be special." Openhouse

In San Francisco, the Openhouse housing project ( www.openhouse-sf.org) is picking up speed again, said Seth Kilbourn, executive director. The residence at 55 Laguna will welcome more than 100 seniors making 50 percent or less of the area median income. Rent will likely be about one-third of a resident's income.

The building will also host 330 units of market-rate housing built by another developer.

"Today's LGBT senior is the same person who was carted away in a paddy wagon at the beginning of the (Harvey) Milk movement," he said. "Now we want to make sure as a community that we're taking care of our older folks."

Openhouse already reaches out to gay elders with volunteer in-home visits and an array of educational and cultural programs.

"The LGBT senior population faces unique challenges," Kilbourn said. "They are more likely to live on their own, and not have the support of immediate family and children. The need for a community of support and understanding and safety is very important as they age. Our vision is to create both a literal and figurative community with on-site support services and a community center open to the entire community."

While the Openhouse residence has support from the city of San Francisco, it needs to line up $50 million to $60 million in development funding from sources such as HUD and the Mayor's Office of Housing, Kilbourn said.

Raoul Thomas, 57, who is disabled from HIV, attends Openhouse art classes at the LGBT center and hopes he may be able to live in the community once it's completed.

"The classes are a blast; we feel so productive and it's terrific to interact with each other," he said. "I imagine the feeling (at the senior residence) might be something like that."


"The LGBT senior population faces unique challenges."