Letter to the Editor: Pride Center Blasts SFGN; Calls Story ‘Fake News’

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Dear Editor,

Yesterday morning, I received a call from a local Senior we’ll call “Ed.” He’s taken part in a few Pride Center programs. He frequently visits Poverello next door. He has a witty sense of humor and bad neuropathy in his feet. He’s also about to be priced out of his long-term local housing. He wanted me to sign him up for the “wait list” for Senior affordable housing on our campus. He was quite disappointed when I told him we’re still a couple years away from a wait list.

Every few days, our COO Kristofer Fegenbush, our Senior Services Manager Bruce Williams or I receive a call like this. They inevitably end with the same sense of disappointment from the caller, and a hearty, impassioned “thank you” that we’re working to provide affordable housing to local Seniors. The need is large.

Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from a community leader. His Wilton Manors neighbor is 82 years old and barely survives on $1,200 a month. The neighbor is losing his housing in February and his friends are searching hard to find him affordable and safe housing. The community leader was writing to affirm the need for affordable, supportive housing for local Seniors. The need is real.

How ironic that an hour later, I opened the SFGN issue for August 2 to be greeted by an article in the Wilton Manors Gazette full of rumors, conspiracy theories and misstatements regarding our project.

Talk about Fake News!

I was disappointed that no one from The Gazette reached out to ask any questions or seek any facts before making-up the article. I happily would have shared our progress and challenges. I also wondered if any confused readers had followed the many articles that have appeared in various Florida publications over the past few years about this project—including multiple in the pages of this paper—or attended any of the various presentations to neighborhood associations, our Founders, local large Seniors groups or other community meetings. Either way, I remained grateful for yet another opportunity to educate our community on The Pride Center’s long-term commitment to providing supportive, affordable housing to Seniors on our campus. We’re excited to help meet a real, persistent local need. And I’ll never shy away from an opportunity to discuss that mission with others.

So, to answer the headline’s question, what is the “real goal” of the Senior housing project? We will give local Seniors a permanent and safe place to live along with the supportive services they need to stay there. That’s the goal, plain and simple.

The Residences at Equality Park will be affordable housing for Senior adults, with a special focus on LGBTQ individuals. This is affordable housing—not low income housing as the article repeatedly claimed. (“Affordable housing” is for tenants with three to four times the rent amount in income. “Low-income housing” is for tenants with barely two times the rent in income. Was the article trying to scare others using images of poverty? Is this another case of NIMBY—Not In My Backyard—syndrome?

The ultimate goal of the project will include 120-130 units. Phase I will include 48 units. This is the phase for which we applied—and were successfully awarded—the 9% Federal tax credits issued by Florida Housing. As we’ve repeatedly described for the last few years, all units are affordable housing for older adults (55+) earning less than 60% of the area’s median income (AMI), approximately $35,000 annually. Every single unit is for Seniors; no one under 55 can live in The Residences. In addition, 70% of these units (34) are designated for seniors living with disabling conditions, such as physical illnesses or disabilities due to complications from HIV/AIDS. These Seniors must be able to live independently, but will benefit from the array of services available on campus. According to a recent survey by the Institute for Multigenerational Health, 47 percent of LGBTQ seniors in the U.S. are currently living with a disabling condition. This is the personal reality we face every Tuesday morning when over 200 Seniors gather in our main hall for Coffee and Conversation.

The Proposed Phase II, including an additional 70-80 units, would be developed at a later date. Over the past two years, The Center has partnered with Carrfour, Florida’s largest nonprofit affordable housing developer in the development of The Residences at Equality Park. Carrfour will serve as the project’s developer, operator and service coordinator. The Pride Center, with over 24 years of experience serving the LGBTQ community in South Florida, will provide residents with innovative on-site supportive services, including healthcare navigation and coordination, senior support groups, workshops, exercise and recreational activities.

The Residences at Equality Park will represent South Florida’s first affordable housing project with customized supportive services for LGBTQ seniors. We already provide a safety-net of services on this campus for local Seniors. The Residences, coupled with The Center’s growing seniors programming-- the largest LGBTQ seniors program nationwide--will give residents a permanent, safe place to live and support services they need to age in place. The Residences joins a growing national trend in which senior affordable housing projects area being built in conjunction with LGBTQ community centers in major cities across the country, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago and Philadelphia. The project represents the next phase of the master plan for redevelopment of the five-acre Equality Park campus.

In case concerned readers missed the many articles and interviews that have appeared over the past couple years in SFGN, Miami Herald, the Sun Sentinel, Florida Agenda, South Florida Business and Wealth, The Real Deal and other publications regarding Senior affordable housing on our campus, I want to review a brief history of the project.

In 2012, Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing identified a desperate local need in Broward County for affordable housing. We serve a growing, aging LGBTQ community with limited affordable housing options. At the same time, The City of Wilton Manors approached The Center about addressing these local needs for affordable housing and our campus’ optimum location and resources to help meet those needs. The development of multi-family housing mixed with other uses at our location is encouraged in the City of Wilton Manors Zoning Code. Also in 2012, during our Strategic Planning process, the Board of Directors set a goal to evaluate the potential of a senior affordable housing project to be built on the Equality Park campus. Our Strategic Plan resulted from two years of many large townhalls, surveys, small group discussions and planning with strategically targeted, diverse groups—Seniors, communities of color, families, women, people living with HIV/AIDS and more.

Over the next three-and-a-half years, the Board did their due diligence, meeting with various top developers and learning the details of Senior Affordable Housing. During this same time, we updated the Master Plan for our campus. We partnered with TSAO Design in a year-long process, including an extensive Charrette with 65 diverse community leaders to brainstorm and prioritize future campus uses. These Charrette results were presented to the Board; the top priorities set our direction. Results were announced and presented to the community. Senior Affordable Housing remains one of the largest, most significant projects identified both by the Strategic Plan and the Charrette process.

The Center Board cultivated relationships with three top developers in the South Florida area during a multi-year evaluation and assessment process. In the end, we partnered with Carrfour to submit our first proposal in November 2015 for 120 units, 185 structured parking spots and a 11,000-square foot community space. In October 2015, Wilton Manors City Commissioners provided demonstration of public support for our application for affordable housing credits from Florida Housing Finance Corporation. Although we didn’t receive funding from our first submission, our second application for Phase I of supportive affordable housing for Seniors was successful.

We’ve never been secretive about this project. We’ve talked about this project consistently for the past few years to anyone who will listen. We’ve included it in every issue of our VOICE newsletter since 2015, including two front-page articles last year—both appearing in SFGN. We gave interviews to every local publication a year ago when the initial funding was announced. I’ve made presentations to local neighborhood associations. Our Board of Directors has welcomed guests from the neighborhood associations to our open monthly meetings. I’ve spoken about it four times at our monthly Founders circle receptions over the past year. I announced it at last year’s Diversity Honors. I give face-to-face updates on the project to our Seniors every month or so on Tuesday mornings. We remain in regular communication with The City of Wilton Manors.

This week’s article reminded me, though, that we can never communicate enough about the good news of what’s happening on our campus. Thank you for the reminder! I welcome readers to come to our campus and receive a tour. See the good work happening!

The article suggests nonprofits are a drain on The City. The Pride Center as a nonprofit still pays our water bills, sewer bills, fire inspection license fee and other fees to The City of Wilton Manors. More importantly, non-profits deliver value-added community enrichments. We provide a spectrum of amenities and services for local residences that The City cannot offer but recognize as needs consistently through their Comprehensive Plan. The Pride Center appreciates a healthy, ongoing collaboration with The City to enhance the lives of our citizens. Heck, we even organize Wicked Manors each year.

The Residences at Equality Park also will pay impact fees to the City of Wilton Manors. Parks & Recreation will receive $976.51 per unit. Police will receive $91.50 per unit plus $61 per 1,000 square feet of non-residential space. Fire will receive $60 per unit plus $40 per 1,000 square feet of non-residential space. Of course, this affordable housing project would be exempt from the Affordable Housing Fee.

Will there be an increase in traffic on Dixie Highway? The coming senior affordable housing project on our campus will undergo the same due diligence with The County and The City that any other project addresses—including a traffic assessment. Around 2000 people use our campus daily. The addition of 48 residents now and 70 residents later won’t dramatically congest traffic patterns.

Last week, I attended a couple of community meetings with Housing Broward, the coordinating council of Broward Housing Council. We’re the most cost burdened rental market in the nation. Local households are the most severely burdened in the nation. Today, for current residents, Broward County needs 70,000 affordable rental units. That’s why Housing Broward is dedicating $5 million per year for the next three years from the General Fund.

The need among LGBTQ Seniors is even greater. Local and national data show that LGBTQ older adults are heavily concentrated in lower income brackets; 51% report they are very or extremely concerned about having enough money to live during retirement. LGBTQ older adults face higher rates of discrimination in securing senior housing and encounter bias and hostile treatment from housing providers and fellow residents. Many face challenges finding housing that is welcoming to same-sex couples. When surveyed, LGBTQ seniors regularly list housing discrimination as a primary concern, including fear about mainstream senior housing options. Experiences of discrimination are linked with poor health outcomes, such as depression among both chronically ill LGBTQ older adults and their informal caregivers. Nearly four out of ten LGBTQ older adults have contemplated suicide at some point during their lives. LGBTQ older adults also are four-times less likely to have children and twice as likely to live alone than heterosexuals. SAGE USA reports that 40% of older LGBTQ adults say their support networks have become smaller over time (as compared to 27% of non-LGBTQ people). As a result, LGBTQ seniors risk being without caregivers when they need it most. Older adults who live alone are at serious risk of social isolation, which is linked to poor mental and physical health, cognitive impairment, and premature chronic disease and death.

I invite any reader that has questions, reach out! Talk to me! Just in case you don’t know me, I am the big 6’ 5” guy at The Center. I’m pretty hard to miss, and I’m not known to be shy or quiet at any of the many gatherings that I attend each week.

Come out and join us on a Tuesday morning! Get to know the more-than 200 Seniors who gather with us! Hear their stories! Learn about their needs! When you do, you’ll be reminded of our “real goal” of providing affordable, supportive housing to Seniors.

You’ll be reminded of The Pride Center at Equality Park’s long-time mission statement: “We provide a welcoming, safe space—an inclusive HOME—that celebrates, nurtures and empowers the LGBTQ communities and our friends and neighbors in South Florida.”

Sincerely,

Robert Boo

CEO

 


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