Providing a haven for LGBTQ elders

Housing for LGBTQ seniors who face discrimination in caregiving is a new but growing trend. A new development is headed to metro Detroit.

Finding safe and affordable housing is a challenge for LGBTQ people, particularly elders who can face difficulty in securing a permanent place to live. A planned senior home in Ferndale, Michigan, will house older adults who encounter those housing struggles because of their identities.

The Rev. Roland Stringfellow, who proposed the project, said he was inspired by a mixed-use affordable housing development in Detroit that opened in October as a haven for gay and lesbian at-risk youth.

“I have LGBT seniors within my congregation, and I was concerned about their particular stories and challenges around housing,” said Stringfellow, senior pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit. “There was clearly a need from those people who I currently serve.” Construction is projected to begin in May.

How much will it cost? The Raymond E. Shepherd House will have 53 one- and two-bedroom affordable apartments in a supportive environment for seniors who make up to 60% of the area median income, according to its developer

“I have seniors within my congregation, and I was concerned about their particular stories and challenges around housing,” said the Rev. Roland Stringfellow, senior pastor at Metropolitan Community Church in Detroit, who proposed the development. He stands in the lobby of Affirmations LGBTQ+ Community Center in Ferndale, Michigan. The housing facility for LGBTQ+ elders is being built nearby. (Clarence Tabb Jr. /The Detroit News)

Rents will range from $441 to $1,060 a month depending on income, with utilities included. The AMI for the suburban Detroit community is $79,181 a year, according to the 2021 U.S. Census

Additionally, the Ferndale Housing Commission will allocate eight of its public housing vouchers to Shepherd House. While there is a waiting list for vouchers for anyone who meets the low-income requirements, seniors and those with disabilities are given preference. 

Housing for LGBTQ seniors is a new but growing trend, with some of the first developments cropping up in the last couple of years in Boston, Seattle, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Sacramento, California

Why is this solution being pursued? Stringfellow’s peer and colleague Kathleen LaTosch said there long has been a need for such housing in southeastern Michigan. 

As chief administrative officer of the Ferndale-based LGBTQ+ community center, Affirmations, she conducted listening sessions and focus groups with LGBTQ+ older adults in Michigan to get a sense of their needs. 

At one all-day strategic planning session in 2007, about 100 people showed up to talk about the desires of the older LGBTQ+ community. 

“And out of that, we learned that housing was really up at the top,” said LaTosch. 

The attendees also told her about the concerns older LGBTQ adults have regarding mistreatment by care providers. 

LaTosch formed with other organizations a volunteer-based collaborative to survey older LGBTQ+ adults on what they wanted in housing. 

“Some structural elements, some safety elements … and making sure that it was affordable,” she said. “We talked about safe places to gather inside, outside, around that space.” 

They also decided that inclusive health care and case management services would be prerequisites for an LGBT-friendly senior home. 

Stringfellow said he hopes that the Shepherd House will be a safe space for LGBTQ+ adults, especially older BIPOC ones, which is why he approached the nonprofit Full Circle Communities to develop the housing development. 

The Chicago-based developers built the Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center in Detroit, which inspired Stringfellow’s proposal and search for land.

They eventually found a vacant site in Ferndale to build the Raymond E. Shepherd House.

“There’s going to have community space on the ground level and several units on the first level as well,” said Stringfellow. “And then three floors that will house these units.” 

A welcoming environment: The apartments will also be barrier-free and adaptable to meet the physical needs of aging adults and will feature a library, community rooms for residents, and on-site property management. 

Full Circle Communities said it also will establish codes of conduct at the housing development to ensure a welcoming atmosphere, giving them the right to evict residents who aren’t respectful or welcoming of their neighbors.

The bottom line: The project will be built on 31,850 square feet of vacant land, and funded with about $13 million from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and a $700,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. 

Cristian Yugsi, project manager for Full Circle Communities, described the development as a partnership between a nonprofit developer and a state agency. The City of Ferndale granted the Shepherd House project 45 years of tax abatements.

Yugsi projects there will be three full-time staff running the facility: a property manager, a service coordinator, and a maintenance coordinator. 

Marsha Florence of Just Ask Talk Show interviews the Rev. Roland Stringfellow about his motivation to open a safe and affordable housing development for LGBTQ older adults who may be disconnected from their families or experience discrimination. Catch it at 5:30 a.m., Wednesday, June 28 on Detroit’s PBS Station.