Chris O’Connor, executive director of Equality Community Center, stands near the site of a proposed affordable housing development aimed at LGBTQ+ people 55 and older on Casco Street in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The first affordable housing complex for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies over age 55 in Maine is being developed in Portland.

“There are lots of challenges for older LGBTQ+ adults and housing is one of them,” EqualityMaine Executive Director Gia Drew said.

Many aging LGBTQ+ individuals do not have children to support them as they age. A lack of familial support can lead to a fear of going back in the closet for those individuals, Drew said.

“I think it builds on the community,” she said. “It’s a positive symbol that we can have a place that’s affordable for older LGBTQ folks.”

Ruby Parker, 76, and Deb Alford, 67, who own a home in Scarborough and don’t plan to apply for one of the apartments, have been involved in the discussions.

“We just felt the need for affordable housing, open to all, but especially open to LGBTQ+ people who, let’s face it, have a hard time finding housing,” Parker said.


“It’s an important project,” Alford added.

The project is led by the Equality Community Center, a gathering space and hub for LGBTQ+ and allied social-justice-seeking nonprofit organizations, and Developers Collaborative.

“We know there is such great need (for housing) in our community, and to know this will be contributing to the need,” ECC Executive Director Chris O’Connor said. “I can’t wait for the day we can open our door.”

Aging with dignity and grace while staying connected to the community is important, he said.

“Right now, I’m very involved with my mother’s care; I won’t necessarily have that,” said O’Connor, who is single and doesn’t have kids. “I don’t have that direct line of support, so this idea of growing old can be very intimidating for folks.”

Chris O’Connor, executive director of Equality Community Center, said housing specifically for LGBTQ+ people and their allies is on the rise across the country, but so far in New England, projects are only being developed in Boston and Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer



The new apartments – a mix of 55 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units – would be built at 25 Casco St., which is currently a surface parking lot next to the ECC.

Housing specifically for LGBTQ+ people and their allies is on the rise across the country – a similar project opened in Sacramento, California, last year, and others are in the works in Dallas and Detroit – but so far in New England, projects are only being developed in Boston and Portland, O’Connor said.

“It’s a trend we’re seeing more and more of,” he said.

While the housing will be focused toward LGBTQ+ people, it will be open to anyone over the age of 55. But there will be community standards – similar to those created on college campuses – requiring a level of respect for members of the LGBTQ+ community, O’Connor said.

“The specific focus of the building is really about providing affordable, safe, welcoming, community-centered housing for LGBTQ+ older adults,” he said.

The five-story building will have commercial space on the first floor that’s expected to house a public coffee shop.


The project is still in the planning stages, with an expected construction start date of spring 2024. The Portland Historic Preservation Board and Planning Board, which held a workshop on the plans last week, still have to vote on the final designs before sending them to the City Council.


A major focus of the project is affordability.

Developers Collaborative is asking the city for about $3.3 million in Affordable Housing Development Funding, via a 75% TIF, or Tax Increment Financing, over 30 years. The TIF program allows the city to pay into economic development projects using the anticipated increase in property taxes that the developments bring in.

“If granted, it will give us the scoring points needed by MaineHousing to loan us the funds to build the building,” said Ed Gardner, one of the ECC founders, who also donated the land for the development.

“I’ve always had in my heart the need to help people,” Gardner said Thursday. “I think this housing is the cherry on top.”


ECC is working to raise $4 million to support the project and renovation of the community center next door, along with getting a loan through MaineHousing. About $3 million has been raised so far, O’Connor said.

“These programs allow us to provide low-income housing for people while still being able to run the building,” Gardner said.

The TIF would require the apartments to be rented to people earning 50% or 60% of the area median income – $47,350 or $56,800 for two people, respectively – for the next 20 years, he said.

Thirty-three units will be for households making at or below 50% of AMI – $1,036 per month for a studio including utilities and $1,331 for a two-bedroom – while 21 units will be for households making at or below 60% of AMI – priced at $1,243 per month for a studio and $1,597 for a two-bedroom.

“Folks that have been fighting for equality for most of their lives … a lot of them have been really engaged in the work, this idea of aging with some dignity and some grace. And being able to stay connected to community is important,” O’Conner said. “Then you layer on top of that the affordable housing piece, and look at the fact that especially now in Portland we’re in the midst of a housing crisis.”

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