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50 Years After Stonewall: City Bar Justice Center Assists LGBT Seniors to Age in Place

by Scott Kohanowski June 7, 2019

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the seminal LGBT civil rights moment – the Stonewall Riots in the West Village, during which the LGBT community stood up to systemic persecution by law enforcement and to the indifference and animosity of politicians and the courts. People from around the world celebrate with New York City during Pride Month this year as we host World Pride to recognize the progress that the LGBT community has made and draw attention to the work that remains to be done.

While fundamental civil rights for the LGBT community have advanced considerably in the last half century, many other basic rights such as employment, housing, and public accommodation protections are under attack nationally, and are nonexistent in many places around the world. New York City and State, for our part, have made great strides in moving the arc of progress towards protecting our LGBT brothers, sisters and nonbinary siblings. New York City has among the strongest human rights laws in the United States, while New York State just this year passed several key laws that extend protections to include gender identity and expression and ban conversion therapy. Nonetheless, New York State still has work to do in some areas, such as securing passage of the Child Parent Security Act, a bill to protect parenting rights.

New York City has long been the adopted home of generations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other queer folks seeking community, freedom of choice and refuge after experiencing a lack of support, rejection, discrimination and persecution in their various places of origin, whether small town America or a foreign land. Many of our LGBT elders who paved the road to greater protections or who simply lived their lives through decades of tumult now find themselves facing new challenges that include issues common to all seniors but complicated with issues unique to the LGBT community. Many LGBT seniors, for example, lack familial support due to estrangement, have minimal peer support as many in their generation were decimated by the AIDS crisis, and suffer the consequences of a life-long decrease in earnings and savings due to historic discrimination. Many of the clients served by the City Bar Justice Center’s Homeowner Stability and LGBT Advocacy Projects confront issues that specifically arise from their intersectional identities, including factors such as age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, race, and nationality. While all seniors may face diminishing capacity and reduced or fixed income, LGBT seniors may face additional challenges such as living with HIV/AIDS or isolation that can lead to predation.

These complex intersections of identities work together to present added challenges for LGBT homeowners in maintaining their housing security. For example, Mr. M, an elderly, gay African American client living with HIV, was unable to keep up with his monthly mortgage and maintenance payments and other expenses. He simply became overwhelmed with managing his financial affairs and had very little room for mistakes on his fixed Social Security income. He fell behind on his maintenance payments and his lender stepped in to pay on his behalf. The lender then foreclosed on his unit when he was unable to repay all the arrears immediately. By the time Mr. M sought assistance from the City Bar Justice Center (CBJC) to try to save his home, the coop association had already entered a contract of sale of his shares, and Mr. M was on the verge of losing the significant equity that had accrued in his unit. CBJC immediately brought suit to obtain a restraining order on the closing of the sale to give Mr. M time to obtain the necessary financial and social services to pay his arrears and stabilize his homeownership.

Like many LGBT homeowners with whom CBJC works, Mr. M did not realize he was eligible for public benefits or know how to find legal assistance to save his home. In general, low- and moderate-income New Yorkers are more likely than their higher-income counterparts to hold property and assets insecurely, as they often cannot afford the legal help required to draft life planning documents, fix title issues, or obtain entitlements. Many LGBT clients have experienced significant marginalization due to sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, which often results in distrust of and discomfort with social and legal services and the courts. Mr. M, like many other LGBT homeowners served by CBJC, was unaware that he was eligible for benefits from New York City’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) as a homeowner (rather than as a tenant), which will pay his arrears and ongoing housing expenses. With CBJC’s provision of legal services to bring a lawsuit to stop the transfer of Mr. M’s coop apartment and secure benefits, Mr. M housing is now secure, safe, stable, and affordable.

CBJC’s work to address the needs of Mr. M and other clients has been made possible through partnerships with organizations like the Center for NYC Neighborhoods (CNYCN), SAGE and the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York. CNYCN works to advance affordable homeownership for NYC’s low- and moderate-income households, collaborating with HSP to help vulnerable homeowners facing foreclosure or other loss of their home. With over 60% of civil legal needs of low- and moderate-income New Yorkers unaddressed, CBJC’s pro bono work is crucial to meeting this civil justice gap. Clients come to the Justice Center in the hardest moments of their lives, and the help they obtain here can make a life-changing difference. Please consider volunteering with the Homeowner Stability Project and helping to change the outcome for a vulnerable New Yorker who may be aging alone, and at risk of losing their home.

Scott Kohanowski is Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Homeowner Stability and LGBT Advocacy Projects.

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