On Broadway between Pike and Pine, the affordable housing for LGBTQIA+ seniors is the first of its kind in Washington. There are 118 new homes in the project. The conveniences of modern construction and quality windows will help keep dance club Neighbours a good neighbor.
The ribbon was cut on a cold fall night in late October but energy from the new senior residents cut the chill. Taking the stage was Laney, a resident of Pride Place who had been waiting a long time for queer elders to be placed at the forefront of the community’s needs.
“Pride Place is the kind of place my friends and I talked about in our 40s, something we could only dream about,” Laney said.
Pride Place is special. Applicants must financially qualify for the building that is utilizing “affirmative marketing” to reach out to underrepresented communities and help make the new building a home for the LGBTQIA+ senior community. The building cannot restrict leasing to queer-identifying seniors because of federal housing law. Instead, Pride Place is reaching out to LGBTQIA+ seniors who meet income requirements.
Laney was a longtime resident of Capitol Hill until COVID hit and she took to the road in her minivan, leaving behind her close-knit queer community. It wasn’t a decision she took lightly, while her travels over the next couple years were full of adventure she couldn’t forget those she had left behind.
“I missed my queer community,” Laney said. “I returned to Seattle but there was no way that I could afford my apartment on Capitol Hill any longer — I couldn’t return to my beloved neighborhood.”
Laney was able to find affordable senior housing in South King County. She did not find comfort in her return, but a reminder of how scary it can feel to be out about her identity, in a community where you do not know who is foe or ally.
“I’d gone back into the closet,” Laney said. “The population at that apartment complex is a pretty homogenous and conservative group. I never really knew who I was going to get into the elevator with. Do they know about me? Are they homophobic? Am I safe?”
It was for this reason that Pride Place was created. The building is hoped to be a sanctuary of community, celebration, and of care for LGBTQ older adults.
Calling its project “affordable, affirming housing for LGBTQIA+ seniors in the heart of Capitol Hill, Seattle,” developer Community Roots Housing worked with community partner GenPride to create the new building. The more than $50 million project was funded through a mix of state and local affordable housing support, grants, traditional lending, and charitable support.
“Pride Place is a space where people from across the rainbow, and across the country, can come together, live in a community, find strength in shared experiences, and expand what is possible for LGBTQ-plus folks as we grow older.” Judy Kinney, executive director of GenPride said. “A place where people can be their authentic selves, without fear or judgment.”
A question posed to the audience on this night was, “Where are the elders in this community?” Someone answered that they were “living in the margins, stuck in an invisibility cloak that can strangle you.”
For Laney, it was a cat who helped show her the way to Pride Place.
This spring Laney was referred to pet-sit for Kinney. Pet-sitting was something Laney was no stranger to, so when she went to visit Kinney, she thought she knew what to expect. What she did not expect was to look for a cat and instead find GenPride.
“I hadn’t even heard of them because I’d been out of town for so long,” Laney said. “Through Judy, I learned about GenPride and I learned about Pride Place.”
Pride Place, or as Laney referred to it, “Xanadu for older queers and allies”, is operated by GenPride, a nonprofit “focused on empowering older LGBTQ+ adults to live with pride and dignity.” Their goal is to make Pride Place a friendly community for all seniors — to focus their efforts on outreach to senior LGBTQIA+ communities throughout the city.
CHS reported here in June when the Pride Place application process opened. The application process for housing like Pride Place can be tedious, you must qualify for low-income housing as it is only available to households that earn 30% to 60% of the local area median income. The developer Community Roots Housing is working with community partner GenPride to find applicants who financially qualify by marketing Pride Place to LGBTQIA+ seniors who meet the income requirements.
Pride Place was not fully leased at its opening and Community Roots was encouraging many people to apply for residency, though the long application process does stagger how quickly an individual can secure an apartment. Affordable apartments in Capitol Hill can face massive demand but take months to fill. In the winter of 2020, there were more than 1,300 individuals who applied to the 110 affordable apartments above Capitol Hill Station, another Community Roots Housing development that has added to the housing mix on Broadway.
“Community roots housing through the whole process has treated me like I was renting a million-dollar apartment,” Laney said. “From the first interview application to the 119 questions, I asked after that.”
Community Roots Housing has played a shifting role in providing affordable housing on Capitol HIll. Amassing a portfolio of dozens of smaller Capitol Hill buildings as affordable housing properties over the decades, it has shifted to larger projects like Station House and the new Pride Place. That shift has brought changes like the planned sale of one of its older, more expensive to maintain properties, E Madison’s Park Hill building.
Meanwhile, it is starting the process of creating a new community for another ambitious affordable housing project at 14th and Union where the eight-story mass timber Heartwood apartment building is now accepting tenant applications. As a Type IV-C permitted project, the new building is one of Washington’s tallest cross-laminated timber structures and features full exposure of its timber beams so residents and visitors can see, touch, and feel the wood.
Despite Heartwood’s innovation, Pride Place might be the more ambitious project. During the opening celebration, people behind the project reflected on why it took so long to create Pride Place in the first place.
“Why did it take so long for us, the global ‘us,’ the city, the state, the county, the world, to address the specific needs of the aging queer community?” Christopher Persons, CEO of Community Roots Housing said to the crowd.
Persons pointed at the slow pace of change “and the unnecessary man-made impediments that get in our way.”
“Pride Place costs $54.4 million, and we still haven’t raised all of that” Persons said. “Even though the project is finished, even though people are moving in, we are still raising money. It shouldn’t be this damn hard.”
Kinney told the audience that Pride Place and GenPride have raised 85% of their funds and still need to raise $750,000. This means that while a small number of residents have begun moving in, some of the common places in the building are missing their last-minute touches like furniture in common rooms.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the audience was given a chance to tour the building and ask questions. Individuals of all ages and backgrounds toured the multi-colored halls, and yes, some furnishings were still missing.
Conversations about the need for a permanent community like Pride Place began in 1987, the project’s backers say. However, it was a study done in 2018 that helped to form the idea for a senior center and housing for LGBTQIA+ seniors in Capitol Hill from the Goldsen Institute at the University of Washington.
The study showed that in comparison to 13% of older adults in the general population, 40% of older LGBTQIA+ participants in the research expressed a desire to relocate but encountered considerable obstacles. These individuals trying to rent or buy a home said they had encountered prejudice because of their sexual orientation. Of those who relocated in the previous year, half had been homeless at some point, and a third had been evicted within the previous five years.
The eight-story building features 118 units of studio and one-bedroom apartments, with 3,800 square feet of commercial retail space and a 4,400-square-foot senior and health services center. Inside, 14 units are designed to meet ADA accessible requirements, with features of wider hallways, and railings to accommodate its residents. The green roof is covered with vegetation and solar panels.
The new building is replaced the long vacant Atlas Clothing building and the landmarked auto row-era Eldridge Tire Company building which had housed Tacos Guaymas and Folicle Hair Design. With a landmark designation, the new building is keeping the old Mission Revival-styled structure’s facade while preservation incentives help boost the project. The Mission Revival elements have remained in place as the new building elements have risen around them. A change in the project’s design called for new tiles to be added to the preservation structure’s roof to mimic the more classical earthen red than the more modern blue shown in earlier renderings of the building. As an affordable housing project that took shape during the height of pandemic restrictions, Pride Place was not subject to a full public design review. Meanwhile, the search has been on for new commercial tenants for some of the street-level space.
One person at the ceremony described Pride Place as a place where you could “come out in, but also live in.” Others said that Pride Place is “not just a first and only,” and hoped “soon similar places will be everywhere because LGBTQIA+ seniors are everywhere.”