Shaping Capitol Hill Housing’s affordable LGBTQ-focused senior housing project

Capitol Hill Housing hosted its first public discussion Tuesday night with the community it will house in preparation for shaping what it hopes will be the nation’s first LGBTQIA+-focused affordable senior housing at 14th and Union. It just might take a little longer to come up with the money to pay for it.

Walter Zisette, associate director for real estate at Capitol Hill Housing, told the crowd the first of its kind senior housing development was not among the projects selected this year by the city’s Office of Housing for some $100 million in affordable housing investments.

“That’s not stopping us at all,” Zisette said. “ It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

Zisette estimated CHH will need another year to find more financing to cover the project’s $24 million budget. He still felt the new project would be ready for occupants in 2020.

Despite the disappointing news, attendees presented plenty of ideas. The most frequent request was that CHH consider intergenerational opportunities for its occupants as the project comes together.

“It’s important not to be cut off from other people,” said Ty Nolan, an LGBTQIA+ elder and attendee. “And it’d be nice to have something like a head start or daycare where people can volunteer as grandparents.”

78-year-old Brandy Sedron-Kelley said allowing LGBTQIA+ seniors to connect with the next generation can prevent a lot of hate and misconception.

“It’s important to utilize the mentality of seniors,” she said. Sedron-Kelley heard about the discussion through her granddaughter, with whom she is very close. “It’s a great way to hear how everybody feels. I came to get information, primarily.”

Sedron-Kelley identified herself as an optimist and hopes to eventually become an occupant in CHH’s new project.

CHH is planning for a contract rezone to build to seven stories with first floor retail and up to 66 permanently affordable apartments. The plan for the new affordable housing is for residents making 50% Area Median Income or lower — roughly $33,000 a year or less for an individual. One bedroom units are shaping up around 550 square feet and studios will be 400 to 425 square feet. The architect on the project is 15th Ave E-based is Environmental Works.

An informal advisory committee also has brainstormed with the housing group on how to engage the community. Some groups on the committee include Bailey-Boushay HouseGay City, Generations Aging with Pride, King County HIV/AIDS Planning Council, POCAAN/People of Color Against AIDS Network and Virginia Mason Hospital.

Among the dozens of ideas tossed about this week, a few rose to the top:

  • An exercise and wellness area
  • A rooftop garden or rooftop dog park
  • A small meeting room that could double as a drop-in service room
  • The commercial space to be used by “non-gentrifying” entities
  • A service coordinator, independent of the owner who speaks on behalf of residents
  • Community and social spaces
  • Intercoms
  • Energy efficiency, gas heat and air conditioning
  • An in-house manager
  • Case and social workers
  • Health care providers
  • A tech room and a food pantry for those facing financial insecurity
  • Inclusivity within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and within races
  • Vibrant, statement colors and design

“I’m visually impaired but I can see well enough to see there’s not many people of color in the room,” Nolan said.

George Bakan, editor in chief of the Seattle Gay News, had plenty of commentary throughout the night and mentioned his dealings with living in non-senior-oriented spaces. He’s fallen twice but was lucky to come out unscathed.

“We must build to avoid [falls],” Bakan said. “There is a true scale of injuries as you get older.”

He also said some living spaces don’t allow visitors without notification. Bakan knew a man with cancer who couldn’t see his boyfriend because it was required he sign up for visitation two days ahead of time.

Other attendees made it clear they don’t want the aesthetics of the project to make them feel like they’re in an institution. Some said they don’t want to be treated like they’re dying or “living in a waiting room for heaven or hell.”

The mood Tuesday night, on the contrary, was mostly vibrant and cheerful.

“I’m proud of my age because I’m proud of having lived this long,” Sedron-Kelley said. “If you don’t have spirit, you’d never make it. You’re born and you die in diapers, only difference is now you get to choose cuter diapers. If I wasn’t tied to this damn chair, I’d be running around here naked, chasing men, girls, whatever I see,” Sedron-Kelley laughed as her power chair shined next to her.


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