Community leaders and elected officials from every level of government took part last Friday in a groundbreaking ceremony for the LGBT-friendly senior-housing project, which had originally been scheduled for last month but was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy.
Located at 249-257 S. 13th St., the property will be home to 56 one-bedroom apartments for those 62 and over, and a portion of the units will be dedicated to low-income residents. The facility, spearheaded by the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund and Pennrose Properties, is slated to open in late 2013.
“This project is not just about Philadelphia, it’s not just about Pennsylvania, it’s not just about the United States; it takes a village, it really does,” said Mark Segal, PGN publisher and dmhFund president, at the ceremony.
The $19.5-million project is supported by city, state and federal funding.
At last Friday’s event, the name of the new facility was unveiled: the John C. Anderson Apartments.
Anderson, who served on Philadelphia City Council from the late 1970s-early ’80s, was a key proponent of the city’s gay-rights ordinance and himself was gay. He died in 1983.
Mayor Nutter, who said it was Anderson’s influence that led him to a career in politics, announced the name selection.
He said Anderson was “quite a charismatic person who played a central role in the passage” of the bill.
“This person also played a tremendously important role in my life as well,” Nutter said. “I think of him every day. He was a guiding force in my public service. Now and then, you get to do something really nice, and this is it.”
The community room that will be used for an array of functions was named after the late John Kelly.
The announcement was made by state Rep. Mike O’Brien (D-175th Dist.), a major supporter of the senior facility. Kelly, who was gay, was O’Brien’s best friend and best man at his wedding. He died of complications of AIDS in the 1980s.
“This community room will bear the name of one who died forgotten for all those who died forgotten, who shall never be forgotten,” O’Brien said.
Other government leaders in attendance included U.S. Congressmen Bob Brady (D-1st Dist.) and Chaka Fattah (D-2nd Dist.), state Sens. Larry Farnese (D-1st Dist.), Mike Stack (D-5th Dist.) and Anthony Williams (D-8th Dist.) and City Councilmen Mark Squilla, Bill Greenlee and Jim Kenney.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell part-jokingly paid tribute to Segal’s “dedication, focus, passion and overall obnoxiousness.”
“This community has been blessed by having a lot of great women and men to lead the fight for LGBT rights but you guys are, I know you know this, you’re fortunate to have Mark,” Rendell told the crowd of about 200. “Passion is important. Relentlessness is important. When you’re creating a movement, and that’s dedicated to increasing people’s rights and increasing opportunities like these wonderful senior apartments, you have to have someone with that passion, with that dedication, who’s willing to put it all out on the line. Mark’s done that and continues to do it and it’s a good thing for the community and a good thing for the city.”
Brian Hudson, president of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, which provided tax credits expected to generate $11 million for the project — which were purchased by Wells Fargo — said it was clear the project had strong backing.
“I got more phone calls on this one than any other [project]. My phone was just ringing constantly,” Hudson said.
He said the project demonstrates a smart use of resources and meshes well with PHFA’s mission of “providing safe and affordable housing for everyone. That’s exactly what we intend to do at PHFA. So I was very happy to be able to get this one done.”
Before the project leaders lined up with the stretch of rainbow-colored shovels for the symbolic groundbreaking, Segal called onto stage a number of the community’s earliest activists — Randy Wicker, Ada Bello, Michael Lavery, Jim Fouratt, Mark Horn and Michael Knowles — who signed a glass panel that will be etched and affixed in the building.
Former Mayor John Street, under whose leadership the project began taking shape several years ago, noted that he just turned 69 and can relate to the worries that all seniors face.
The facility will be one way to alleviate the particular challenges LGBT elders face, Street said.
“When you start staring 70 in the face, you don’t want to have to worry about this kind of stuff, you just really don’t want to have to,” he said. “This is going to be a relief for some people. But even more so, it’s a shining example of where we ought to go in this city, this commonwealth and this country.”