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 2 of 2, Focus on LGBT

In last week’s blog, part 1 (link) I introduced the general topic of the strong connection between diversity work and housing issues, and highlighted many of the key points made at an all day Fair Housing Conference I had attended in the Spring.

This week I would like to expand on how housing issues impact the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community and provide links to some interesting stories and resources in this area.

Four main points:

1) There is no universal national protection for housing discrimination against LGBT people. Many people incorrectly and naively assume that LGBT people are offered the same protections against discrimination as people of different genders, races, religions, etc. In his closing speech at the 2013 Raleigh Fair Housing Conference, Bryan Greene from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development stated, “that it is quite remarkable that in today’s world, that the federal housing statute does not yet include sexual orientation, though some states and municipalities have added it.” Mr. Greene also shared that the US executive branch has issued a regulation that recipients of FHA grants, Section 8 and Public Housing Assistance cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation, which is a great step in the right direction.

2) In fact, there is serious housing discrimination against LGBT people. In June of this year, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a study they commissioned in conjunction with the University of Albany, State University of New York. (link to article.) Some of the findings included wide spread discrimination in across almost every market, and that gay male couples experiences more discrimination than lesbian couples. (see also ABC news story)

Fountaingrove Lodge, an LGBT retirement community in Sonoma, California has a main building with multiple units and individual homes like this beautiful bungalow

Fountaingrove Lodge, an LGBT retirement community in Sonoma, California has a main building with multiple units and individual homes like this beautiful bungalow

3) A fast growing area of discussion is LGBT senior housing. Safe and affordable housing for LGBT seniors is a growing hot topic among advocates for aging LGBT populations. There are new projects across the country seeking to bring solutions to the table, especially where LGBT people will be totally accepted – for example even having same-gender partners being able to share a unit or room together and be provided LGBT-competent health services. The North Carolina LGBT bi-weekly paper QNotes featured an excellent detailed article (link) about this.

4) There is a growing number of LGBT-affirming housing solutions emerging in our country. Here are three example:

The Carol Woods Retirement Community, here in my own state of North Carolina, is a welcoming progressive community which even placed an ad recently in QNotes, North Carolina’s LGBT bi-weekly paper and invited me to speak to their staff and residents about LGBT diversity
• There was a full page ad in a recent Gay and Lesbian Review (bi-monthly magazine) for Fountaingrove Lodge, a new retirement community in California exclusively for the LGBT retirement community.
• Innovative real estate entrepreneurs Todd Shipman and Steve Strode (who I met at the 2013 NGLCC Leadership Conference) have formed rEqual (link), a business partner and advocacy group connecting professionals engaged in the real estate industry with the LGBT community. And the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) recently awarded a Diversity Grant to the Oregon Association of REALTORS® (OAR) to take rEqual from concept to reality.