Expansion of SF LGBT senior housing begins

Source: The Bay Area Reporter

By Matthew S. Bajko

Representatives from Openhouse, Mercy Housing, Wells Fargo, local politicians, construction personnel, and others celebrate the groundbreaking of an LGBT-focused senior housing project at 95 Laguna Street. Photo: Rick Gerharter


The asphalt of a former parking lot is rapidly being torn up in order to start construction on a new home for low-income LGBT seniors in San Francisco.

Work on the site at 95 Laguna Street began last Friday, October 13, and an official groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday, October 17. Invited guests donned hard hats representing the colors of the rainbow flag and wielded shovels to ceremoniously turn over dirt for the occasion.

"Today, we redouble our commitment to our groundbreakers, our LGBT seniors, and the community we want to build with them," said Karyn Skultety, Ph.D., who became the nonprofit's executive director earlier this year.

When it opens in the spring of 2019, likely in March or April, the building will be home to 78 seniors 62 years of age or older. Fifteen of the units will be reserved for those at risk of being homeless and another six for low-income people living with HIV or AIDS. An additional unit will be reserved for an onsite manager, bringing the total number of apartments in the building to 79.

The $24 million building will be adjacent to the 40 units of affordable senior housing that opened last fall known as the Openhouse Community at 55 Laguna. The $16 million project, which repurposed a former college building, was a joint venture between Openhouse, the LGBT senior services agency based in San Francisco, and Mercy Housing California, which develops below-market-rate housing.

Mercy and Openhouse will also jointly oversee the new building; Wells Fargo provided the financing for its construction. A lottery will be held in late 2018 to select residents, with the aim to see a majority be from the LGBT community, although straight seniors will be able to apply to live in the building.

"We are hoping to have great success finding LGBT seniors to live in the units when we are done," said Doug Shoemaker, Mercy's president, adding that the new building "is going to be lovely."

It will be named the Marcy Adelman and Jeanette Gurevitch Openhouse Community in honor of the couple that founded the nonprofit nearly two decades ago.

Gurevitch, a psychotherapist who died in 2003 at the age of 54, and Adelman, Ph.D., 71, a psychologist, initially called it Rainbow Adult Community Housing. It was their response to seeing friends evicted from their apartments and struggling to remain in San Francisco.

Asked if the naming honor came with a dedicated apartment in the building, Adelman laughed and responded with a succinct, "No." She described the new building as being "the heart of the hub of the whole campus."

Artist rendering of Openhouse's new senior housing project. Photo: Courtesy Openhouse

With more than 1,700 people on the waiting list for the 55 Laguna units, Adelman acknowledged that the additional units at 95 Laguna are only a small step toward addressing the housing needs of the city's senior population.

"When people ask me if this will meet the need, the answer of course is, 'Hell no.' But it is the foundation to do that. We can leverage all the progress that we have made here on future projects," said Adelman, who in September was appointed to the California Commission on Aging by state Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (D- Los Angeles).

As of now, though, Openhouse has no immediate plans to pursue additional senior housing developments, Skultety told the Bay Area Reporter this week. Its focus in the near term, she said, will be on expanding its programs and bringing its services "to the next level." A key component will be providing seniors with assistance in finding housing and applying for below-market-rate units in the city.

Openhouse will have more than 7,000 square feet of space in the new building to use for community events and classes. It will be in addition to the agency's offices at 65 Laguna Street, known as the Bob Ross LGBT Senior Center due to a $1 million donation from the foundation of the B.A.R.'s founding publisher.

The agency is planning to have a computer center and an art studio in the new space, Skultety said Tuesday, as well as a lifelong learning center offering foreign language lessons, yoga classes, and other activities where "seniors will not only be the students but the teachers as well."

On the second floor will be a large space for community events with a capacity of 200 people. A balcony will overlook the entranceway, which will have its own address of 75 Laguna.

Adjacent to it will be the entrance to the residential units and a street level communal area with a kitchenette that looks onto Laguna Street and the public mews that leads up into the adjacent housing developments. Each floor of the building will have a lounge for residents where they can gather and relax.

"The design of the building has always been about community," said Bruce Prescott, the project architect whose firm is Santos Prescott and Associates.