By Dustin Scott
The Edmonton Pride Seniors Group (EPSG) is getting closer to its dream of building a queer-friendly retirement home.
The group is working with the city to acquire a piece of land on which to build an affordable housing development where queer seniors can feel comfortable and safe being themselves, without worrying about whether the residents or staff will accept them. It has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Garneau United Assisted Living Place (GUALP) to manage the home in a way that aligns with the EPSG's values.
GUALP currently owns and operates The Ashbourne, a 110-unit seniors' facility in the Garneau area that specifies that it welcomes members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. But the need is much greater than that one facility can fulfill.
"We surveyed a number of people from the community, and one of the biggest concerns they had was feeling like they would have to go back into the closet," said Blair MacKinnon, one of the leads of the project. "Could you imagine? Or if I am a trans person, is the staff going to understand my needs. An older transgender person will have different needs than an older straight white man."
The EPSG has its eye on a piece of land in The Quarters, which would be close to downtown, bike paths, buses, and the new LRT line. But it has not yet been designated for affordable housing, and both executive committee and city council would have to approve any purchase or transfer of publicly owned land to the EPSG.
The plan is to make it a 50-unit, mixed-income building, meaning that about 40% of the units would be available at 80% of market rental rates.
The project was conceived in 2013, but the serious work didn't begin until around 2015. The project was taken to the next level when MacKinnon came aboard in 2017. He joined the EPSG in 2017 after retiring from over 30 years of working in various positions in the Alberta provincial civil service, including several projects with Alberta Health.
"The project was something I knew I wanted to be part of instantly," he said.