John C Anderson Apartments: John C. Anderson Apartments

The very people who first fought for LGBT rights now face the prospect of being forced back into the closet after struggling for so many years to live openly. Despite many improvements in Philadelphia in the visibility and treatment of LGBT people, the elderly are often overlooked. LGBT seniors face many challenges including limited access to healthcare, uncertain legal rights for partners, and unequal treatment under state and federal law. Nearly 50% of all local LGBT seniors find it difficult to find affordable housing and 13% currently live in unstable environments. Activist and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News Mark Segal saw the need for low-cost housing for this "out generation", and created the John C. Anderson Apartments.

Says Segal: "If you came out in the 1960s, for the most part you didn't have the support of your family. You couldn't get a decent job. They're now in their 60s and 70s and they don't have a decent place to live, and we wanted to create an environment so they could live with dignity in their own community, and I hope we did that." Located at 249 S 13th Street in Washington Square West, the John C. Anderson Apartments is the third LGBT-friendly senior apartment community in the country and the first of its kind in Philadelphia. The apartment complex gets its name from city councilman John C. Anderson, who fought for a civil rights bill for sexual minorities before his death in 1983. The structure houses 56 one-bedroom units and the apartments are open to any eligible senior, not only gay residents.

The complex was built through the cooperation of the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund and Pennrose Properties. The Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund funds programs that educate about HIV/AIDS, combat prejudice and discrimination, and provide services to various groups in the LGBT community. It also grants awards to LGBT service organizations in Philadelphia including William Way, AIDS Fund, Mazzoni Center, Philly Pride Presents, Philadelphia Black Gay Pride, Philadelphia Family Pride, and the Attic. Pennrose Properties specializes in affordable housing. It hired Joe Salerno, experienced in affordable housing projects and a member of the "out generation", as the architect.

Construction began in October 2012, and move in began January 2014. The groundbreaking ceremony honored LGBT activists Randy Wicker, Ada Bello, Michael Lavery, Jim Fouratt, Mark Horn, and Michael Knowles. They signed a pane of glass that is in the building. The opening ceremony, held on February 4, 2014, was led by Mark Segal. It featured ringing a series of rainbow colored doorbells instead of a traditional ribbon-cutting. A congratulations from President Obama was read. Governor Ed Rendell, Mayor Michael Nutter, Representative Bob Brady, and State Treasurer Rob McCord were all present to witness the historic event.

The John C. Anderson Apartments have partnered with the William Way Community Center to provide counseling, programs, events, and a sense of community to the residents. The Mazzoni Center leases space in the building and provides residents with counseling and medical care. ActionAIDS provides screenings for residents. There are also programs in computer literacy and legal assistance is available. This is important for lifelong partners who haven't received legal benefits of marriage. These organizations and services provide security and a sense of community for LGBT seniors that are difficult to find anywhere else.

The John C. Anderson Apartments is one of several projects across America that target low-income LGBT seniors. Triangle Square in Los Angeles, completed in 2007, has 104 units. Minneapolis has designated gay-friendly affordable senior housing. SAGE Harlem (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders) uses an "aging in place" model to make it possible for seniors to remain in their existing buildings or neighborhoods. Chicago's Center on Halsted LGBT Homesharing program matches renters with housing providers. Two more buildings are under construction in Chicago and San Francisco. These historic buildings are the first of their kind.

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