Retirement communities are not just grey - they're pink as well

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The Independent US

The latest hot property in the American housing industry has nothing to do with fancy loft conversions or "McMansion" monstrosities. Instead, growing numbers of developers are turning their attention to another kind of project entirely: retirement communities for ageing gays and lesbians.

Ten years after a Manhattan retiree, Bill Laing, broke ground on The Palms of Manasota, a collection of modest homes near Sarasota in Florida, and marketed it as "America's first gay and lesbian retirement community", similar projects are sprouting up across the country.

Most recently, the city of Santa Fe in New Mexico witnessed a formal ribbon-cutting at the more upscale RainbowVision. On 13 acres, it boasts 146 apartments, for sale and rent, as well as a social centre with a shared cafeteria, a Billie Jean King health club and spa, and a cabaret space. The community also offers assisted-living units for residents no longer able to live independently.

RainbowVision is already sold out, and its developers are planning a second, similarly-sized community in Palm Springs, California. Meanwhile, other projects geared specifically towards retired gays and lesbians are either under way or already completed, with names such as Birds of a Feather, Resort on Carefree Boulevard, and Carefree Cove.

The message is that same-sex couples can step from their front doors holding hands without embarrassment and single homosexuals will find themselves in an environment where they can come out and not feel they are in a minority. Some will be emerging from the closet for the first time.

It is a building boom driven by demographics. There are an estimated three million gays and lesbians over the age of 55 in the US. Many find themselves with none of the usual family support networks that heterosexual people rely upon as they get older.

According to Senior Action in a Gay Environment, an advocacy and support organisation for ageing homosexuals, 67 per cent of gay seniors in the US live alone, twice the proportion of their straight peers, and 90 per cent have no children.

A Maryland-based consultancy, Packaged Facts, calculates that by 2020 the number of gays and lesbians over 50 in the US will have gone up to nearly six million.