HOUSTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith for Realty News Report) – The nation’s largest LGBTQ-affirming senior living center – a 112-unit complex featuring a glowing entry tower of multicolored translucent panels – has opened near the center of Houston.
Germinated under the leadership of Annise Parker – a Houstonian who served as the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city from 2010 until 2016 — the new seniors community comes as the result of long labor. After seven years of fundraising, design collaborations, meetings with community stakeholders, and the construction process, the Law Harrington Senior Living Center has received its initial occupants.
The senior living center, 2222 Cleburne, is located south of downtown, adjacent to Highway 288 in the Third Ward neighborhood.
“How many places in America do they have a place like this?” says Dina Montalbo, 74, a new resident at the four-story seniors community. “Oh my God, everything about this place is fantastic!”
As the finishing touches are completed at the seniors center, Montalbo will soon be followed by other new residents, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals and other senior citizens, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
“Construction is continuing but we started moving seniors in after we got our occupancy permit on Jan 8,” says an official with the Montrose Center, an organization that led the development of the housing project. “More than 64 percent of the 112 units have been assigned. To date, 30 seniors have moved in, some are two bedrooms, some are 1 bedroom, and all rents are sliding scale. So more than half are leased. Cost is based on income, they are sliding scale and they use federal tax credits.”
Designed by the Smith & Company architecture firm, the community has living units ranging from 878 SF to 1,234 SF, with full kitchens and some with large patios. There’s a 17,196 SF clubhouse near the leasing office, social workers’ suite and clinic. The community’s exterior features complementary colors of dark brown, tan and white.
Mayor Parker: Montrose Land Prices Were Too High
“I am very proud of it. I toured it two weeks ago and it’s very beautiful,” says former mayor Parker, a driving force in the development of the Law Harrington Senior Living Center.
“We wanted to do it in Montrose but land values were too high and we’d lose too much capacity if we built it in Montrose,” Parker says. “So, we drew a circle around Montrose Center and found the tract on Cleburne. My administration, the City Housing Authority and Tammi Wallace, the Montrose Center Executive Director Ann Robison and Kennedy Loftin got involved to put the big building blocks in place. We needed a partner who could operate so Montrose Center will operate through their board and a separate management company, Hettig Kahn. They deal with so many LGBT clients, they wanted to be at arm’s length on the project. They are a social service agency and they don’t rent apartment complexes.
“While it is open to anyone, they very clearly position it and market it as affirming to the LGBT community,” Parker says.
“Among the funders are Nancy and Rich Kinder, so you have government funding and some big foundation dollars – they all ponied up,” Parker says. “The only negative I heard was that it was a brownfield site. The local civic associations protested because they wanted single family homes. Because the site was a brownfield, it would take millions of dollars in remediation to make it livable for single family homes. Next, they didn’t want a homeless shelter. We designed it for ultra-low-income seniors. These are independent living apartment units. Once we answered those questions, by law, it is open to the community.”
Namesakes: Early Day Activists
Early LGBT activists Gene Harrington, a law professor at Texas Southern University and Charles Law both had an impact on the LGBT community, but a senior living LGBT community would have been beyond his wildest dreams in 1987 when he was organizing some of the Houston’s first protests. Charles Law, who spoke at the National March on Washington for Lesbian & Gay Rights in October of 1979 was keenly aware of the prejudices against gays and Law was a founder of the Houston Committee, a black gay men’s professional organization active in the late 1970s.
“For anyone in their generation, when they were fighting for the most basic rights to even think about having housing focused on LGBTQ seniors, would have been unfathomable,” says Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce. “What you still see is that the need is almost overwhelming. We saw LGBT seniors maturing and having to go to nursing homes that were not LGBT affirming, so they had to go back in the closet and deny who they were. The lived with a fear of coming out and not being given their medication, suffering discrimination when they were very dependent on services or being kicked out of the nursing home that was not LGBTQ affirming. The community needs to be accepted and welcomed so that there are more options. The real unfortunate part is these seniors are so vulnerable in their later years.”
The Pioneer Generation that Came Out
“I think it’s a great pioneering solution, but it’s crazy to have to say in 2021 that an LGBT living center is new,” says Christopher Barry, owner of Buddy’s, a gay bar in the Montrose area.
Kent Loftin, Chief Development Officer for the Montrose Center, says the center was made possible partly because of leadership from earlier generations. “The LGBTQ seniors moving in are the first generation of our community who have lived out, in many ways, they are our first generation of seniors. First to come out at work, first to come out to their families and first build our community. Before this generation, you didn’t have that. Today, I’m able to come out at work and have marriage equality because of those trailblazers. They are the ones who made sacrifices – that came in way of work discrimination, loss of economic opportunity lack of a formal which marriage arrangement which meant so many lost a partner and found they lost their homes,” Loftin says. “There were no legal protections, so not only did they often lose their life partner, they lost their home.”
Lose Your Partner, Lose Your Home
“You could live in a seedy, low, low rent weekly motel or a God-awful nursing home and if you went there, chances were good that you could be abused,” says Ken Stewart, (a lifetime member of Houston’s GLBT Political Caucus.) “It’s miserable places like that where you ended up if your family separated you from your partner without your consent or some horrible state-run facility.”
Funding Sources and General Generosity
The Law Harrington Senior Living Center was a collaborative project and the City of Houston Housing and Community Development Department contribute $5.1 million with TIRZ funds to finance the development.
The Midtown Redevelopment Authority donated the land, worth $3,380,000, where the project was built.
“We performed an environmental cleanup of the brownfield, investing $1.2 million of which $600,000 was reimbursed from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to ensure Houston’s most vulnerable communities have a safe place to call home,” says Todd Edwards, Real Estate Asset Manager for the Midtown Redevelopment Authority.
The Hollyfield Foundation, an LGBTQ community foundation made the first gift for the community campaign for the Law Harrington Senior Living Center, followed by the LTR Lewis Cloverdale Foundation and the John Steven Kellett Foundation that both gave leadership gifts to the project. The largest private investment was from the Kinder Foundation, which awarded a transformational gift of $1.5 Million.
A diverse collaborative spirit and a public/private partnership has brought a brand-new option for seniors in the under-resourced Third Ward.
“I am thrilled that it’s being constructed in the Third Ward, which is one of the ten Complete Communities that I have identified,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “These are neighborhoods where we are working with residents, private industry, nonprofits, and others to serve under-resourced areas. By offering opportunities like affordable housing, we are investing in historically underrepresented areas, and it is important to make sure that everyone within our community has a place they can call home.”
Closing Quotation: “HEARD ABOUT HOUSTON?” – David Byrne, Talking Heads. – “Life During Wartime.”
Feb. 24, 2021 Realty News Report Copyright 2021
Clarification: An earlier version of this story did not adequately elaborate on the vast contributions of The City of Houston Housing and Community Development Dept. in the development of the Law Harrington Center.
File: Nation’s Largest LGBTQ Seniors Housing Center Opens In Houston
Featured Image: Law Harrington Center.. Photo by Ralph Bivins, Realty News Report, Copyright 2021