Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Queer Quest for Retirement

A few years ago we thought that retirement communities for LGBT folks were possible. The financial crisis, specially the drop of real estate values, might have changed that. Now many of the planned communities are yet to be developed or have been canceled. The few that were built are in bankruptcy, as the story in the New York Times shows.

This gives us time to pause and think: are these retirement communities the future for LGBT folks? Is the existing model of retirement communities created by a white, heterosexual middle class fitting to LGBT retirees? Perhaps no.
The communities planned for older LGBT retirees targeted the middle class and the rich, not the vast majority of LGBT people. Many of these communities also targeted (implicitly) couples, as the traditional model has done so. This is not the majority of LGBT elders, not even a half of them. It might be that the idea of a retiring community in a small town or resort city is based on a heterosexual archetype and not on the idea of a community that is primarily urban and that relies mostly on peers and social networks. Even more, the variation of legislation supporting (or condemning ) same sex unions across states limits the choices for LGBT to buy property and migrate.
So the failure of LGBT retirement communities we are seeing is not a surprise (except for the aspect related to the collapse of the real estate market).
A couple of alternatives come to mind. One is the housing program currently run by SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders), in which older LGBT folks are matched with younger LGBT in need of inexpensive housing. The former provides low cost housing and the latter, social support.
The other option is based on the initiative of small group of citizens who come together as a co-op to buy and manage their own residences – e.g., a mid-size condominium building fitted to their social and health needs. Yet, this model assumes folks can afford, at least, a studio-size property.
We have a lot of thinking and experimenting to do before we figure out what, where and how, works for our LGBT elders.

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