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At first glance, Triangle Square is just the latest apartment complex opening in rapidly gentrifying Hollywood, the fabled Los Angeles neighborhood that is emerging from decades of malaise to become a thriving urban center. The lobby looks like the interior of a W Hotel; the famed intersection Hollywood and Vine (site of a future W Hotel) is two blocks away; and two upscale commercial projects built over the past five years sit just to the south. But Triangle Square is a different kind of apartment building: Thanks to local, state, and federal support, it's the nation's first multicultural affordable-housing development for LGBT seniors.
Unlike LGBT-oriented retirement centers being developed in Santa Fe, N.M., and Palm Springs, Calif., where units will be priced at market rates, Triangle Square's 103 apartments are for those on fixed and low incomes over age 62. Monthly rates are between $230 and $800. In a white-hot rental market like Los Angeles, that's a steal.
"Across the street units are going for $1,600 to $2,500," says Mark Supper, executive director of the nonprofit Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing, which spearheaded Triangle Square. The complex opened in May and features a computer room on each of its four floors, plus a gym, pool, library, media room, and game room.
Of the target residents, Supper says, "many of them are in dire situations." Often lacking the family support that straight elders receive--and facing atmospheres at most retirement communities that are far from gay-friendly--many out seniors return to the closet, if they can find a space that will take them at all. Indeed, 17 Triangle Square units are designated for those who are homeless or in danger of becoming so.
Supper views helping such folks as less an act of charity than as a community necessity. "I feel very strongly we wouldn't be standing here, you and I, having this conversation--even The Advocate existing--if it were not for our seniors who had fought for us," he says during a recent tour. "It is about time that we as a community came around and took care of our seniors."
And those seniors have responded. Although fair-housing laws mean that Triangle Square cannot legally ask about sexual orientation--or deny an eligible straight elder a place--the majority of applicants so far have self-identified as LGBT. "Because there is such a need, the community has flocked to fill out applications," says Supper.
The response from the greater community has been positive as well. "It was a dream come true to see this become a reality," says city council member Eric Garcetti. Located on land provided by the city of Los Angeles, Triangle Square was built by private developer McCormack Baron Salazar but received support from numerous government entities--including the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, through its Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS program. (Eighteen units have been set aside at Triangle Square for residents with HIV and AIDS.)
"It was a unique financial structure that was put together," says Supper, who plans to replicate the success in other areas. "Our goal is to take this model on the road."
Jimmy Hughes, 68, was scheduled to be one of Triangle Square's first residents. An Ohio native and former Trappist monk, Hughes was a surgery technician, office administrator, and a staffer for the "Dear Abby" newspaper column before medical conditions forced him to retire. Currently living in a studio apartment in a rough L.A. neighborhood, Hughes is looking forward to an easier life.
"The energy in that building is just fabulous," he says. At one of Triangle Square's opening receptions, Hughes spoke before a group of local VIPs. "I said I was a gay senior citizen," he remembers. "It was so freeing, I can't tell you."