While the senior housing industry has given way to a plethora of niche communities that cater to various facets of life, a particular lifestyle model is rising to the top with style—one that has a California senior housing operator eyeing significant opportunity following its launch of a high-end community serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) seniors.
Communities accommodating the LGBT senior crowd have been sprouting up all over the country, mostly within the last decade, as more developers and operators look to address the unique retirement crisis faced by LGBT seniors.
There has even been a push recently from LGBT advocacy groups, who earlier this month teamed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development on a new campaign to maximize housing opportunities for this often-discriminated against community.
In the last two years, communities for LGBT seniors have been developed in Philadelphia, New York and Chicago, however, most of the development has geographically skewed toward California, home to the first LGBT affordable senior housing community—Hollywood’s Triangle Square, which opened in 2007—as well as several more projects currently under construction and two private-pay communities that are now operational.
One of those communities is Stonewall Gardens, a 24-unit assisted living village in Palm Springs, Calif. operated by Redding, Calif.-based Northstar Senior Living. Having officially opened its doors just weeks ago, Stonewall Gardens expects to be completely leased up in about three months, said Steve Kregel, chief operating officer at Northstar.
The optimism is due largely in part to Northstar’s marketing efforts for Stonewall Gardens, which took on a more geographically vast approach compared to the way the company markets its other communities.
“Locally is where it all happens,” Kregel told SHN. “Within a 10-mile radius is where you get a lot of your residents, whether it’s from family members, discharge planners or referral sources. We’ve extended that for Stonewall Gardens.”
Taking into account the demographics that make Palm Springs a destination where seniors and LGBT elders want to retire, Northstar expanded its marketing efforts to other major cities along the coast, including but not limited to Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle.
“Because there’s not a lot of LGBT-friendly communities out there, people may come from other cities to Palm Springs just to live with us,” Kregel said. “We’ve taken advantage of that.”
Situated in the burgeoning Uptown neighborhood of Palm Springs, Calif., Stonewall Gardens embodies the resort-town and vacation feel of its surrounding environment in the Coachella Valley, which is also home to the neighboring Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage.
These locales, though inviting to both second homeowners and retirees alike, also attract a significant LGBT population. In Palm Springs alone, previous studies have estimated that 8.6% of the city’s population consist of same-sex households, among the highest in the country. Coupled with U.S. Census data that indicates 26.5% of the city’s population is age 65 and older, Palm Springs became a no brainer for Northstar to develop an LGBT senior living community.
“With those population numbers, it really made sense to do a project here,” Kregel said. “Another thing that Palm Springs brings is their population, a large majority of which is seniors age 55 and over. The dynamics of the numbers really work here.”
Originally built as a 1950s bungalow-style resort, the structure that would become Stonewall Gardens previously served its purpose as an old motel before Northstar essentially gutted the interior and changed some of its existing configuration to create a more workable assisted living complex, Kregel said.
Within Stonewall Gardens, each unit features amenities typical of hotel, including large bathrooms, flat screen TVs, outdoor patio and modern furnishings worthy of a design catalogue’s front page cover.
Outside corridors and expansive mountain views—not to mention the sunny Southern California climate—encourage outdoor living. To this end, Stonewall Gardens features patios with every one of its apartments, al fresco dining areas and an outdoor entertainment space for barbecues and parties.
The surrounding Uptown area also lends itself to some inviting outdoor activity as well. A wide variety of mid-century retailers, fine dining, fashion boutiques, antique shops and art galleries characterize the trendy neighborhood scene.
“In Palm Springs and Southern California, you spend quite a bit of time outside,” Kregel said. “This type of property for Stonewall Gardens is going to work well for that.”
While Stonewall just so happens to be Northstar’s first LGBT-oriented senior living community, it won’t necessarily be its last.
“Stonewall Gardens is our first [LGBT community] and hopefully there will be more,” Kregel said.
Written by Jason Oliva