William Way Withdraws From Senior Housing

At last week's meeting, the board voted unanimously to end the partnership that would have built senior housing at the center

Plans for LGBT-friendly senior residences have been scrapped at the William Way, though it's expected the housing will be built elsewhere in Center City (courtesy of William Way)

After a special meeting last week at the William Way, the future of an LGBT-friendly senior housing property is uncertain. The board voted unanimously to dissolve its partnership with the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund (DMH) and Pennrose Properties after spending months raising funds to build the senior housing tower on its property near 13th and Spruce.

“The William Way LGBT Community Center has worked in good faith over the last year to complete its due diligence for this very important project. We continue to support the project, but our organizational priorities and the immediate needs of the center do not allow us to postpone our strategic planning or the renovation of the center for another year,” says Jeffrey C. Sotland, co-chair of the William Way’s board of directors.

The William Way had worked closely with DMH and Pennrose over the last year to explore the possibility of building on community center’s site, and had developed an agreement for a project that would include significant enhancements to the center – with an expanded ballroom space, a catering kitchen, and major renovations to the overall facility – while providing housing for LGBT seniors and their friends.

Admittedly, major funding for the project – including tax credit resources from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Association (PHFA) – were not granted. Many anticipated that the William Way would opt out before considering whether to apply for a second application in October. But a press statement from the William Way says significant enhancements would not have been accomplished within the expected timeframe in order to qualify for the funds. As a result, the leadership at the center – including the board – has refocused its efforts during these tough economic times.

The project also faced concerns from those who said that building housing for exclusively LGBT seniors would violate laws that require housing to be open to everyone who may qualify within the senior community in Philadelphia. Therefore LGBT senior housing would also have to be open to other seniors who qualify (both according to age and finances) – regardless of sexual orientation.

“The past year’s work has had significant benefits for the center, and we will build upon these accomplishments,” says William Way executive director Chris Bartlett. “Through the fine work of the center’s ad hoc committee on senior housing, and its facilities committee, we completed a careful analysis of the center’s need for renovations and improvements, we valued the center’s real estate, and we have begun a plan to target resources for significant improvements to the center’s facility. We thank the many friends of the center who helped us in this process, and we are committed to delivering on our plan for a renovated center to meet the needs of our growing community.”

Bartlett says the William Way will continue to support the efforts of DMH and Pennrose to build LGBT-focused senior housing in Center City, and will be a partner in providing services when the new project is completed. “Housing for LGBT Seniors in Philadelphia is a long term goal that will be accomplished,” says Bartlett. “The success of such an effort is key to the future thriving of our community. Though the timeline and resources of the project did not allow this housing to be built at 1315 Spruce as we had hoped, we know that when LGBT senior housing is built, it will be closely allied with the senior programs of the William Way.”