Durham developer seeks LGBT-friendly retirement living

Gay&Gray: Architect says aging LGBT population needs viable, friendly alternatives

Patricia Harris has lived in Durham for 20 years. First a social worker and educational planner, Harris returned to school years ago to receive training as an architect. In all her years in the Bull City, she’s already left a positive legacy, serving on the committee to draft the city’s 2020 master plan and on the zoning board.

Patricia Harris eyes opportunities for LGBT-inclusive senior living in the Triangle and beyond.

She’s hoping she can make another mark just for the LGBT community. As the community ages right along with the rest of the country, Harris sees a unique need for sustainable and affordable retirement living and housing options tailored to LGBT clients.

“We’re way behind the curve in terms of providing housing in the LGBT community and other affinity groups and communities,” Harris tells qnotes. “That need is only going to keep growing and growing. Ten thousand Americans are turning 65 each day.”

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America’s aging trend will continue to climb and, according to the Social Security Administration, continue each day for the next 19 years. It’s a chilling proposition, as seniors retire and seek benefits from the country’s various entitlement programs — a proposition that will transform our country and our culture.

“I think at some point there’s going to be a mass consciousness shift,” Harris says. “People are going to say, ‘Wait, I can afford my mortgage, but I can’t afford my utilities.’”

Harris says financial stressers won’t be the only considerations running through seniors minds. Many fear isolation and depression and seek out living arrangements where they can be among other like-minded people. Additionally, many LGBT seniors report high levels of discrimination and harassment from caregivers and institutions. Harris’ new development firm, Golden Dawn Development, is just now beginning to ramp up design and fundraising efforts to build a mixed-age retirement community in Durham.

“We’re in the beginning of that process,” she says. “We have several different ideas on the boards right now and we’re looking at prototypes.”

She says she’s heard several ideas from community members. One she likes is the idea of group housing.

“You might have three couples who say they all want to live together, so we should take a look at that and see how we might build that into a larger home with shared living space,” she says.

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Specialized retirement communities tailored to LGBT and LGBT-friendly people is an idea that’s been floating around for at least a decade. There are dozens of communities scattered across the globe that reach out to LGBT clients, including Carefree Cove in Western North Carolina.

Harris’ project, however, diverges from the way many of those communities operate. She says she wants her first development in Durham — she wants to expand to Charlotte or the Triad and then nationally — to welcome LGBT, LGBT-friendly, artistic and other niche customers. She also says a certain portion of the residences will be set aside for younger customers under the age of 35. Harris says such an intergenerational mix would foster a better sense of community and enhance opportunities for older residents.

Still, Harris admits she has an uphill battle facing her.

“We’ll need to focus on how to present attractive alternatives to the idea of ‘Oh, I’m just going to stay in my house.’” she says. “I’ve had many people who’ve said that and I then ask them how their furnace is, how old their roof is. You’re 60 now, but you have a 10-year-old furnace when you are 80; can you afford a $6,000 out-of-pocket hit then?”

In July, Harris will stage a series of community workshops around the Triangle area in order to gauge interest and solicit ideas and suggestions.

For more information about Harris’ project or upcoming workshops, visit goldendawndevelopment.com, email peharris@earthlink.net or call 919-399-1627. : :

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.