Christina DaCosta,Assistant Director of Communications,917-553-3328,firstname.lastname@example.org
January 6, 2017
CLEVELAND, Ohio - It took 20 years for the seed of an idea to become a building.
In November, the first renters moved into A Place for Us, an unusual senior apartment complex on Cleveland's west side. Those move-ins were milestones for Linda Krasienko, who spent two decades advocating for construction of gay- and lesbian-friendly housing in the city.
In the early 2000s, she struck out downtown, first at the Avenue District and later in the Warehouse District. Plans for a similar apartment building in Ohio City fell apart in 2007.
By the time Krasienko encountered the NRP Group, the Garfield Heights developer that finally made the project happen, she'd nearly given up hope.
"I was built up so many times, then let down. Three years ago, I was at the end of my rope," said Krasienko, a 65-year-old community advocate who started worrying about housing for aging lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people while working in nursing homes.
"I guess I don't know if reality has set in yet," she said after a recent tour of A Place for Us, a 55-unit property that caters to low-income renters ages 55 and older. "Everything fell into place, after 17 years of constant disappointment. And then when people say 'You did this, you did this,' I'm thinking no. NRP did this. I just sort of sat back and watched it happen."
The building, on Madison Avenue near West 117th Street, isn't limited to LGBT residents. Federal housing law wouldn't allow that. But the property goes out of its way to welcome LGBT renters, who can feel alone, intimidated and discriminated against in their hunt for a safe space to call home.
A Place for Us is the only Ohio property in a directory of LGBT-friendly housing compiled by Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, a nonprofit organization based in New York. The building is one of a handful of such overtly welcoming communities across the country, though the pool of similar projects is growing as real estate developers catch on to a need and a niche.
Krasienko is a minority owner in the project. But she's a major presence in the building as the on-site service coordinator, responsible for activities and amenities. While NRP handles property management and leasing, she's bringing in eclectic artwork, Tai chi sessions, drawing classes and a hairstylist who offers $10 cuts.
"Linda will provide programming that helps and targets folks who are part of the LGBT community," said Aaron Pechota, senior vice president of development at NRP, which owns and manages apartment buildings across the country.
"We don't know and can't ask what the orientation is of different people who are living there," he said of A Place for Us, the company's first foray into LGBT-friendly housing. "But what we can say is this is a development that is inclusive. And we're going to have programming that supports this population."
The $9 million project involved competitive tax credits from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and financing from Cleveland-based KeyCorp.
One- and two-bedroom apartments rent for $500 to $800 a month. Residents can't make more than $28,020 a year, for a single-person household. As of Friday, the building was 95 percent leased.
Kevin Borowiak picked up his keys Nov. 1 and moved in a week later.
At 60, he struggled to find an affordable apartment after his 15-year relationship ended. He's living on disability benefits after being forced into early retirement from teaching due to an autoimmune inner-ear disease that hampers his balance and mobility. His parents are dead. His sisters don't live nearby.
Frustrated by waiting lists and limited resources, he contacted the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. And they told him about A Place for Us.
Borowiak still is settling into his two-bedroom apartment, which he shares with two cats he calls the Spice Girls - Nutmeg and Ginger. Though his fellow tenants aren't all members of the LGBT community, he's met other gay residents. And he finds comfort in the idea that more likeminded people, whether they're gay themselves or straight allies, will gravitate to A Place for Us because of the building's programming and mission.
"It's a pleasant mix that's here, that I've met," he said of his neighbors. "Unless some knight in shining armor rides up and carries me off on his white steed, I'll be here for a while. Not to be a starry-eyed dreamer."
In late November, Ken Akins left the Westerly Apartments, an affordable senior complex in Lakewood, for a one-bedroom unit at A Place for Us.
The 62-year-old retired machine operator wanted be surrounded by younger people - in their late 50s and 60s instead of their 70s, 80s and 90s. He loves the convenient access to public transportation, including the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's West 117th Street Rapid station. And he's thrilled about the building's first-floor workout room.
"What they have here is a gym with the elliptical, and that's my favorite thing, to do the elliptical for 30 minutes," he said. "And then they have weights and bands you can use."
For Krasienko, the building is a step toward combatting the loneliness that older LGBT people can feel, since they're less likely than other aging Baby Boomers to have close family ties or children. She's encountered once-closeted men and women who remain worried about their safety, about how other people will treat them.
Krasienko didn't come to terms with her own sexuality until she was 40. She and her partner, social worker Patti Verde, have been together since 1995. It was the realization, years ago, that the women might not be welcome as a couple in a nursing home or senior-housing community that drove Krasienko to begin exploring options for LGBT housing.
Two decades later, that kernel of a concept has blossomed into bricks and mortar.
"Somebody across the street over here came over and said to me, 'Is this where gay people live?'" Krasienko said, laughing. "And I said, 'Everybody's welcome here. You've got to be 55 and older.' I want to build the invitation and the networking and the friendliness of who we are. One of the fears that was expressed throughout the years by some of the gay people was 'I don't want to live in isolation.'
"Well," she said, "we're far from being isolated. That's not who we are."
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