CINCINNATI — Among the most vulnerable populations seeking housing are low-income seniors and the LGBTQ community.
Cincinnati’s John Arthur Flats is planning to open in October and is aiming to support both.
According to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, 52% of renters age 65, or older, are housing burdened, meaning they spend more than a third of their monthly income on housing and as the population ages, the department of Housing and Urban Development expects that proportion to grow.
Meanwhile, despite federal laws against it, LGBTQ individuals still face widespread housing discrimination and are more likely than their straight peers to face poverty or have children and families willing to support them as they age.
In Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood, the John Arthur Flats aim to help those at the intersection of those identities, providing 57 affordable units in the state’s first LGBTQ-inclusive affordable senior apartment complex.
The project has been at least three years in the making through a collaboration between the neighborhood’s development arm, Northsiders Engaged in Sustainable Transformation, and developer, Pennrose.
“Northside has really been committed to try to bring in more affordable housing,” said Sarah Thomas, NEST’s executive director.
To Thomas, the long-abandoned grocery store property that once stood at 4145 Apple St. seemed a prime location, so along with Will Basil, the Pennrose developer, they worked to design a project that could bring in low-income housing tax credits and make the most of the space.
“We started talking with Pennrose about their past projects and projects all over the country really that we liked and we thought were a good fit for Northside as examples and we talked a lot about the John C. Anderson development that Pennrose had done,” Thomas said.
The apartment complex in downtown Philadelphia was the developer’s first LGBTQ-inclusive senior housing complex and all of its units were reserved for older adults, making 20-60% of the area median income.
As the original home of Cincinnati Pride and a rich history of LGBTQ activism in Cincinnati, Thomas figured a similar project would make a great fit in Northside.
“When you think about the first generation that really started to live their life publicly out in the world, they’re now aging and they’re now in this prime bracket age-wise of needing affordable housing, needing secure housing, most of all just needing a place that they feel like they can be themselves and have their peers comfortable with them,” she said.
Though anyone of any gender identity of sexuality over 55 who met the building’s income qualification would be welcome to apply, the building’s goal was to provide an accepting and supportive environment for the members of the LGBTQ population, offering on-site medical and social services geared toward that community.
It was approved for $10 million in LIHTC funds and the $13.2 million project broke ground in June 2021. Thomas said the name, John Arthur Flats, came from community input.
“Some people that are involved with NEST had personal friendships with him and we started to talk about, you know, how can we honor the community and also just show the importance of this type of groundbreaking housing,” she said.
John Arthur and his husband, Jim Obergefell, met in Cincinnati and spent much of their lives in the city, though gay marriage was illegal in Ohio, so the couple went to Maryland to get married.
Arthur, diagnosed with ALS, was nearing the end of his life when Obergefell sued the state for the right to put his name as Arthur’s spouse on his death certificate. The case ultimately went to Supreme Court and Obergefell v. Hodges is known as the landmark case that made marriage equality the law of the land.
“John has since passed, but we’re working with Jim to bring the attention that it deserves to that within the community here,” Thomas said. “Just past this fence line here there will be a memorial tree for John Arthur that will be planted during a private ceremony.”
Set to open in October, the flats are currently accepting their first housing applications. Studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units are available for adults over 55, making between 30 to 60% AMI.
Though this is the first LGBTQ-inclusive affordable senior apartment complex in the state, another LGBTQ-inclusive housing project opened in Lakewood last year.