What is Openhouse?

Openhouse (formerly Rainbow Adult Community Housing) is a non-profit organization founded in San Francisco in 1998. Its mission is to address disparities preventing isolated and vulnerable lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) seniors from accessing crucial senior housing, health, long-term care and aging-support services that are sensitive to their needs. Today, openhouse is focused on building housing, services and community programs for LGBT seniors; and working to support and celebrate the lives, health and well being of LGBT older adults.

Why do LGBT seniors need Openhouse?

More than 25,000 LGBT seniors age 55 and over live in San Francisco, and about 60,000 live in the Bay Area. Over the next 10 years, as the baby boomer generation ages, that number is expected to increase by 40%.

Because most seniors of the current and coming generations generally do not have children or other more traditional family supports, LGBT older adults are disproportionately reliant upon support systems outside of such structures.

Unfortunately, surveys have shown that they do not access the services that are available to all seniors due to concerns that service providers and mainstream senior communities will not be supportive or understanding or worse. And when they do, they do not talk about who they are for fear of judgment, rejection, or compromised care. Systemic problems of ageism, homophobia and racism have locked the LGBT community out of housing resources and undermined access to health-related and senior services, even in a region as tolerant and welcoming as the San Francisco Bay Area.

Moderate and low-income LGBT seniors are particularly hard-pressed to remain a part of the community they’ve always called home due to escalating costs of living and housing. Many seniors are at risk of being forced to leave San Francisco or even go back into the closet at a time in life when familiar and loving surroundings become increasingly important.

Which is why Openhouse is at work every day building:

  • Housing | In April 2008 Openhouse received entitlement from the City of San Francisco to build 109 units of affordable housing that will be welcoming to LGBT seniors at 55 Laguna Street.  In August of 2011, Openhouse received unanimous approval from the Board of Supervisors to begin designs on those units.
  • Services | Through its state-wide cultural competency training program, Openhouse trains service providers on creating welcoming, safe and secure environments for the LGBT clients they serve.
  • Community | In 2007, Openhouse launched its neighborhood outreach program to identify isolated LGBT seniors and work with neighborhood senior centers to establish LGBT programming.  In 2010, Openhouse inherited the New Leaf – Outreach to Elders program when that organization went defunct.  Since then Openhouse has served over 600 seniors through community based programs.

Who benefits?

Research, surveys and outreach interviews conducted by Openhouse identified five major LGBT subgroups in San Francisco that urgently need housing, service and community as they age:

  • Low and very-low income singles and same-sex couples, especially those in the Tenderloin and on SSI, who cannot afford market-rate housing and who feel hopeless and defenseless in the face of the existing LGBT-unfriendly public housing lottery system.
  • People who have worked hard for many years but still anticipate incomes below the median for San Francisco when they retire—and therefore will find it very difficult to continue to afford comfortable, safe housing in the city.
  • Financially secure people who have been able to plan for themselves to include a future home in a safe assisted-living or memory-support environment—where they can reside in comfort, style and dignity, without worrying about discrimination or harassment from personal care aides or other residents.
  • San Franciscans who have the means and strong desire to remain in their current homes as they age, but who will eventually need LGBT-sensitive and trustworthy support services such as home health care aides, temporary help after hospital visits, assistance in caring for frail loved ones, adult day health care, case management, etc.
  • People who have the means and family/friendship networks to care for each other but who want the Bay Area’s long-term health care system to be sensitive and responsive to their needs.

What will Openhouse’s residential facility offer?

In August 2011 Openhouse received unanimous approval from the  City of San Francisco Board of supervisors to build 109 units of affordable housing that will be welcoming to LGBT seniors at 55 Laguna Street.  We anticipate offering stylish and comfortable apartments of varying sizes who can live independently. Each apartment will have a kitchen. Meals, transportation, housekeeping, care management, and social activities will be included in the monthly rental fee. A community space serving residents and LGBT seniors from throughout San Francisco will be included for dining, social engagement, wellness management, exercise, and activities.

Long-term, Openhouse aspires to create housing facilities to meet a broad range of socio-economic needs within the LGBT community.

Currently, Openhouse is at work through it’s services and community programs efforts to enable seniors to remain in their homes of choice for as long as they’re able by ensuring appropriate supports are accessible and available.

How will the residential facilities be financed?

Any undertaking of this magnitude will have a substantial cost. Some portion of the program will create rental revenue for this nonprofit initiative. Government financing; charitable gifts from individuals, businesses and foundations; bonds; and low interest bank loans will provide the bulk of the funding.