LGBT Retirement Communities Fall Victim to Economy

Members | November 29, 2011

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) elders face an uncertain future when their retirement communities fail. 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults who flocked to retirement communities designed just for them are finding out that living “out of the closet” in their old age may not be as easy as they had hoped. 

The prejudice that has dogged many of these elders throughout their lives is not the problem, however. Instead, the current economic crisis is standing in the way of a peaceful retirement.

Since 2009, many of the newer LGBT communities have struggled with the same financial challenges facing mainstream retirement communities, including hard-to-secure financing, declining real estate values and low occupancy rates. 

But the recession seems to have hit LGBT communities harder because most haven’t been in business long enough to build the financial reserves they need to ride out hard times.

Heartbroken Residents 

The downturn has been disappointing to investors, but it has been downright heartbreaking for residents who thought the LGBT retirement community movement was a “dream come true.” 

Organizations like SAGE, which advocates for improved housing options for LGBT elders, saw these retirement communities as a solution to the serious caregiving challenges facing gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people as they age.

Those challenges include the prospect of growing older without the support of children or extended family members, a situation that is exacerbated by the fact that LGBT elders are twice as likely as their straight counterparts to live alone. 

Hiring professional caregivers isn’t always an option. SAGE reports that mainstream nursing homes often fail to protect gay men and lesbians from hostile treatment by staff or other residents, according to The New York Times.

Rainbow Vision 

Financial instability at Rainbow Vision, a New Mexico retirement community for LGBT seniors, has led to open hostility between residents and managers. Running low on cash, Rainbow Vision reduced services while raising the monthly fee it charges residents for use of the community’s common building, which houses a restaurant, salon and gym. 

Some of the community’s 100 residents have been banned from using that building because they stopped paying the fee. Since then, the dispute has gone to arbitration and the community has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.   

Rainbow Vision resident David Garrity told The Times that he and his fellow residents had a “starry-eyed vision of what we thought Rainbow Vision was going to be.” That vision may have prevented him and others from picking up on some clues that the community’s finances were not stable, says Garrity.

Despite the hostile environment, residents aren’t making a beeline for Rainbow Vision’s door, however. Leaving, they say, would mean going back in the closet.

“When I came here, I felt like I could be myself,” said resident John Wojtkowski. “Without Rainbow Vision, there’s no other place to go.”