Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone at the podium during an October 7 ceremony announcing the launch of a LGBT-friendly senior housing development in Bay Shore, with Assemblymember Phil Ramos to the immediate left of the podium and the Long Island GLBT Services Network’s David Kilmnick next to Ramos. | COURTESY: LONG ISLAND GLBT SERVICES NETWORK
Fifty units of affordable housing for LGBT and LGBT-friendly people age 55 and over are set to open in Bay Shore, Long Island in the spring of 2016 through a collaboration among government, developers, and the Long Island GLBT Services Network, which operates community centers in Woodbury in Nassau County, Bay Shore in Suffolk County, and Sag Harbor in the Hamptons.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, announced enabling legislation for the development at a ceremony attended by 100 on October 7 in Bay Shore.
“It was only a couple of years ago that Suffolk County was considered a county of intolerance,” he said, alluding to anti-immigrant attacks that made headlines, but “but we have changed the tide and today’s announcement only reinforces the commitment I made to ensure that this county embraces its diversity and serves as a welcoming place for all.”
Fifty-unit Bay Shore complex first of its kind in tri-state area
David Kilmnick, the GLBT Network’s CEO, who first began working on services for the community 21 years ago through Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth, told Gay City News, “If we can get GLBT senior development in suburban Long Island, it can be done anywhere. I don’t imagine this will be the last one we do.”
Kilmnick said the project was first suggested to Bellone by Ethan Eldon, president of Sustainable Management, a development company, whose work in government included a commissionership in Mayor Abe Beame’s administration in the mid-1970s. Eldon was a lifelong friend of the late gay journalist Doug Ireland, a regular contributor to Gay City News.
“He just said it would be great to have LGBT senior housing,” Kilmnick said. “He’s not gay himself, but has seen gay people struggle. The county executive told him to contact me.”
Kilmnick and Eldon got to work putting together the project, which also includes the collaboration of POKO Management and the non-profit Long Island Housing Partnership.
“It’s a public-private partnership,” said Kilmnick, “with the county coming up with funds for the planning process. We’ll own 51 percent of the entire project without having to put a penny in.”
A federal Department of Housing and Urban Development program will provide financing for the development, Kilmnick said.
When completed the project will occupy three-quarters of an acre on Park Avenue, some of which is already owned by the GLBT Network. The complex will include studios, one-bedrooms, and a few two-bedroom apartments, with eighty percent dedicated for affordable housing with federal income restrictions and 20 percent rented out at market rate. Applications to live in the development are not limited to Suffolk County residents.
According to Kilmnick, the Network “will provide all the health and nutritional and recreational services” at a new LGBT senior center there that will be open to non-residents as well.
The Bay Shore project will be the fifth such development nationwide, the others being the John C. Anderson apartments in Philadelphia, Spirit on Lake in Minneapolis, Triangle Square in Hollywood, and one set to break ground this fall in Chicago’s Halsted neighborhood.
Speaking at the October 7 ceremony, State Assemblymember Phil Ramos, a Democrat, said, “It is so important that we recognize the needs of all members of our community, and this is a big step toward addressing those needs for this historically underserved group.”
County Legislator Monica Martinez, also a Democrat, said, “Ensuring Suffolk County is a welcoming place for all continues to be a priority of my office.”
The Network’s press release noted that the “non-profit Equal Rights Center recently conducted surveys across 10 US states and found that in 46 percent of cases, gay couples reported discrimination when seeking housing.”
Shortly after the announcement last week, Kilmnick received a piece of hate mail Ñ the third in 18 months Ñ threatening both him and the new housing development with violence.
“It’s quite disturbing and unnerving,” he told Long Island Press, “and it’s also a wake-up call for all of us not to be complacent with all the gains we’ve had with equality in the community.”
Kilmnick told Gay City News he grew up in Far Rockaway and was inspired by the work of his grandmother, Helen Leonescu, who was a Democratic district leader.
“I went out on the campaign trail with her and she always talked about senior issues,” he recalled. “My first job out of social work school was with the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged.” Though he started out his LGBT work on Long Island with youth, Kilmnick explained, “I wanted our seniors to see that their lives matter and mean something and can have golden years that are truly that.”