Village Hearth – an innovation in LGBTA senior living!

The Village Hearth is situated on 15 beautiful acres of land just 7.5 miles north of downtown Durham, North Carolina

A few years ago, I wrote a series of blogs about issues around diversity and housing, and included a discussion around the intersection of housing issues and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) aging adults. Link to blog. Since that time, there has been a significant increase in senior housing options that are more affirming of LGBT people as we age.

But now I want to write about a real innovation and a “first of its kind” community for LGBT and allied people. Village Hearth in Durham, NC is the first “cohousing” community for LGBT people and their allies.

What is “cohousing?” It is a concept that started in Denmark a few decades ago, and now there are about 130 – 150 cohousing communities in the United States. Cohousing is an intentional neighborhood of private homes clustered around shared space. Households have independent incomes and private lives, but neighbors collaboratively plan and manage community activities and shared spaces. Village Hearth in Durham NC, which is about to start the construction stage, is the first cohousing development in the US specifically geared toward LGBT people and their allies.

Village Hearth future residents Gary Ross-Reynolds and Tami Ike

Recently I met with two future Village Hearth residents, Tami Ike and Gary Ross-Reynolds, out at their 15-acre location.
STAN: Do tell me more about Village Hearth. When will building start?
TAMI: We will be a community of 28 homes on this 15 acre piece of property, and we still have 2 units remaining for sale! Construction will start in the Fall of this year, and we hope to start moving in by the end of 2019.

STAN: What is the mix of future residents? Are they all gay and lesbian?
TAMI: Actually it is quite a diverse mixed community of men and women, half are LGBT, and half are straight folks who enjoy living in diverse communities. We also have a good mixture of couples and single people, and several of our members are still working, and some are retired.

STAN: So Gary, I understand you’re from Asheville. Could you tell me a little more about yourself?
GARY: Yes, I had an interesting career, starting as a psychologist and later moving into ICU nursing. My partner Steve, who is 9 years older than I, is a retired Episcopal priest.

STAN: What led you to wanting to move into the Village Hearth?
GARY: My partner Steve and I have been wanting to move to Durham for various community groups here we want to get involved in. But I didn’t simply want to move from one house to another house in a typical neighborhood – I wanted to move into a place that was both LGBT affirming and would offer a built-in set of friends and community activities.

This sign reflects the sentiment of the Village Hearth community.

STAN: How important was the LGBT aspect of the Village Hearth to you?
GARY: That was an extremely important part of our decision. In doing research, I found that many of the traditional senior living communities either are not welcoming to LGBT people, or don’t know what to do with us. I have heard of situations where same-gender older couples are even separated and not allowed to live together. They virtually have to go back in the closet again. And even if the community was open and welcoming, I really do not want to be their “token gay.”

STAN: Finally, what are you looking forward to most in moving into the Village Hearth?
GARY: I am looking forward to getting involved in all that Durham has to offer, and I look forward to having a wonderful group of friends and activities here in the Village Hearth to enjoy.

STAN: And where can people find more information, especially if they may be interested in the two remaining homes for sale?
TAMI and GARY: Certainly explore our website, And feel free to call Gary at (828)-545-9900 or via [email protected]
STAN: Thank you for taking this time with me, and I wish you both and all your other future Village Hearth residents a wonderful joy-filled future.

The Diversity and Housing Issues Connection – Part 1 of 2

Throughout this summer, I seemed to be involved, read information or met people who are connected with housing issues. And then I realized that there is a very strong connection between diversity work and housing.

Where a person or family lives is one of the most critical aspects of their lives and could determine access to jobs, training and needed services. Centrally located affordable housing offered without discriminatory practices near available transportation can be the single determining factor for someone to better their lives and advance out of joblessness or poverty.

In April, I was privileged to attend the annual Fair Housing Conference cohosted by the City of Raleigh, NC Fair Housing Hearing Board. Some of the key points presented by various speakers and panelists included:
• One successful model is non-profit corporations teaming with municipalities and neighborhoods to build and manage affordable housing that positively impacts neighborhoods. One such example is CASA in North Carolina. Some of their recent projects have targeted veterans and people with disabilities.

This beautiful CASA property is reserved with individuals and families with disabilities

This beautiful CASA property is reserved with individuals and families with disabilities

• Another best practices is when city or town governments work creatively across departments (like community affairs and transportation) to come up with solutions for city residents.
• There are certain populations that have an extra hard time find housing. These include ex-prisoners trying to productively re-enter society to start a new life, and immigrants who could face language barriers in filling out the paperwork and understanding lease agreements.
• Blatant discrimination against particular groups is still a reality in the United States. This poignant and shocking video (link) about discrimination against Muslims by an apartment complex in Texas was shown to conference attendees.
• There are a number of passionate and very knowledgeable groups and leaders who are working tirelessly to address the housing issue. One who was honored at the event was national housing leader and consultant Stella Adams. See also the NC Justice Center’s Consumer Protection and Housing Project.

The closing speaker for the conference was Bryan Greene, the US General Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. He highlighted some of the excellent work being coordinated out of the US Federal Government. Some of his key points included:
• There are still many issues around fair housing that HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) needs to continue to address into the future. This work is nowhere near over.
• The area of disabilities accounts for the largest number of complaints filed with HUD (45% of the total.) The most common issues are lack of accommodation (e.g. parking, assistance animals, etc.) and allowing modifications to units.
• Other hot areas of housing discrimination include familial (especially against single parents with children) and religious (especially against Muslims)
• Segregated communities are harmful for our country whereas fully integrated diverse communities will build a stronger nation.

In Part 2 coming next week I will expand into the connections between housing issues and my core area of diversity expertise – the LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender – community, including Bryan Greene’s comments about this area.