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Red light for Halifax LGBT seniors’ complex underscores need for federal housing strategy

Canadian Association of Retired Persons says housing for queer seniors a 'growing concern'

Halifax City Council recently gave a thumbs-down to a proposal for a housing complex advertised as a safe space for LGBT senior citizens. Credit: ThinkStock

Halifax City Council recently gave a thumbs-down to a proposal for a housing complex advertised as a safe space for LGBT senior citizens. The founders of the project, the first of its kind in Nova Scotia, are now evaluating their options for the next step.

The original idea for the project was to put the seven-storey complex above a redeveloped St John's United Church in Halifax's North End. At present, the huge, aging, 62-foot-tall church is "taking a greater proportion of our resources away from our programs," according to the site's website.

So, under the proposal, the church would occupy a small space in the ground floor of the redesigned building, with six affordable seniors' apartments above.

While the group says that the vision for the project would be in keeping with their theology, they underline that "St John’s United Church will 'reach out' and embrace all tenants, visitors and community members, of all faiths." That includes, they say, low-income seniors and "in particular, St John’s will affirm the rights of GLBT persons who may wish to take up residence to equal consideration and respect."

But councillors shelved the project after opposition from neighbourhood residents. The largely residential area isn't zoned for any buildings higher than 32 feet — the proposed structure would be almost double that, at 70 feet.

The plan was rejected 10 to 6 in a vote before city council.

Brian Jay, who is on the project’s implementation team, says that after working for three years to get the proposal to this point, it was frustrating to have it knocked down.

He says that the church will be spending the next couple of months evaluating its options. "We don't have anywhere else to put it," he tells Xtra.

Spirit Place was to be Eastern Canada's first real LGBT-inclusive seniors' complex.

Craig Knowles works with Pink CARP — the queer wing of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons — and says there's "growing attention and concern" when it comes to finding inclusive, affordable space for aging Baby Boomers.

The conversation hasn't made its way to Ottawa, however. "I don't think there's a federal government housing strategy," Knowles says, especially not on LGBT-inclusive housing.

He says there have been "informal talks" in Ontario with the provincial government over creating a funding system for queer-inclusive seniors' spaces. "That conversation is ongoing, and it's growing legs," Knowles tells Xtra. And it's necessary, he adds.

"A large part of the concern is that people go back into the closet when they go into seniors' care that's not LGBTQ-friendly," he says.

"It's a growing need and it's something that cannot be ignored."