There is strong evidence that housing impacts health. Housing stability, quality, safety, and affordability all affect health outcomes. Housing is “one of the best-researched social determinants of health, and selected housing interventions for low-income people have been found to improve health outcomes and decrease health care costs” (Health Affairs).
The Montrose Center’s Law Harrington Senior Living Center (LHSLC) represents one venture to improve housing options for seniors in Houston, Texas. The Center hosted its grand opening on June 24. As an LGBTQ-affirming center, the LHSLC offers specific programs and policies to support LGBTQ residents and protect them from discrimination. Since one of Achieving Together’s focus areas is cultivating a stigma-free climate of appreciation and inclusion, we interviewed staff from the new Senior Living Center to learn more about the program.
How did the Senior Living Center get started?
For over 40 years, the Montrose Center has empowered our community of primarily lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals and their families to live healthier, more fulfilling lives by providing a number of critical programs to LGBTQ Houstonians.
Housing is one of the greatest financial challenges and, correspondingly, one of the greatest needs for older adults across the nation. One in eight LGBQ adults and one in four transgender adults in the U.S. say they have experienced housing discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, there are at least nine seniors waiting for one occupied unit of affordable elderly housing nation-wide. In some cases, a senior can spend three to five years on the wait list for access to affordable housing. As in the Montrose neighborhood, many long-time senior residents of the larger Third Ward area are seeing their rents and property taxes increase beyond their means.
Unfortunately, there are few options for those who seek to downsize and remain independent, save for very poorly maintained and unsecured apartment complexes. The Greater Third Ward is currently undergoing rapid demographic shifts due to redevelopment trends and increased interest in the area’s comparatively affordable real estate, creating gentrification.
The vast majority of LGBTQ-affirming neighborhoods, businesses, churches, and service organizations remain centrally located to Montrose and the surrounding areas. However, the lack of affordable housing in Montrose has pushed many LGBTQ low-income seniors, and longtime residents of Third Ward, to seek more affordable, yet less community-centric, areas. These areas may be away from their friends, family, and social support services.
In 2015, led by honorary campaign co-chairs, former Mayor Annise Parker and State Representative Garnet Coleman, the Montrose Center launched the “There’s No Place Like Home” campaign to help fund the Law Harrington Senior Living Center, with a commitment to providing an affordable senior-housing community that is also LGBTQ-affirming. The project was first made possible by a land grant for the 2.87 acre lot from the Midtown Redevelopment Authority, initiated by State Representative Garnet Coleman with the support of Midtown Redevelopment Authority staff.
What are the goals of the Law Harrington?
The goal of the Law Harrington is to provide seniors a place able to age with dignity and pride in a stable, safe, and affirming community, with access to specialized services and support. This project will also serve as the cornerstone of the Montrose Center’s comprehensive approach to support seniors, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. We really see the Law Harrington becoming a hub for our LGBTQ seniors and hope it will become a vibrant community where seniors from all across the city, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can come to enjoy critically needed services and programs.
It’s mentioned on the website that there are services for seniors living with HIV. What sort of HIV services will be available?
We have Legacy Community Health providing onsite primary care services for residents and the larger community. Seniors living with HIV will be able to take advantage of the clinic for check-up appointments and other medical needs. Staff from the Montrose Center will also be available onsite to provide case management, educational programs, advocacy, and service linkage, and can make referrals to other Center staff located at our main building for interpreter services, individual, couple/family, and or group counseling, or other needs.
What would you like for people to know or understand about the Senior Living Center?
The Law Harrington Senior Living Center is named after Charles Law and Gene Harrington. Charles Law was a significant force in the gay and lesbian communities in Houston. He was Co-Chair of the Executive Committee for Houston’s Town Meeting in 1978. He was also the founder of the Houston Committee, a black gay men’s professional organization, active in the late 1970s.
(Eugene) Gene Harrington, a tireless gay-rights activist, worked with the Houston AIDS Equity League, the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, and the Texas Human Rights Foundation, receiving honors from all for outstanding volunteerism.
The complex is the largest LGBTQ-affirming senior housing complex in the nation (137,838 SF) and features 112 one- and two-bedroom, independent living apartments for low-income seniors ages 62 and above. Rental is limited to single older adults and couples whose annual income is below a certain amount, the details of which are based on an annual calculation of income from the Houston area. The Law Harrington provides apartments at the following area median income (AMI) levels:
- 24 units at 30% AMI
- 45 units at 50% AMI
- 43 units at 60% AMI
Additional features of the property include: a social services department managed by the Montrose Center, geriatric primary care clinic provided by Legacy Community Health, a group dining area, meeting and game rooms, a fitness center, dog park, and outdoor recreational spaces.
The most important thing to know about the complex is that it is LGBTQ-affirming, meaning that it is a safe, affirming place for LGBTQ seniors to live with dignity, pride, and without fear of hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity. While the complex is LGBTQ-affirming, it is open to all seniors who meet the age and income requirements.