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UC Berkeley extension building proposed to become LGBT-friendly senior housing

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Hoping to move: Pam Quiton is a member of the LGBT community who would benefit from a planned senior housing complex. (Mike Koozmin/The Examiner)
Hoping to move: Pam Quiton is a member of the LGBT community who would benefit from a planned senior housing complex. (Mike Koozmin/The Examiner)

To Pam Quiton, the opportunity to live in LGBT-friendly low-income senior housing would be “heaven.”

The 55-year-old lesbian said she would leave her one-room Mission district home in a heartbeat if such a place existed. Quiton has rheumatoid arthritis and lives in a neighborhood where she has been robbed and regularly hears death threats outside her windows.

“I think it’s a great idea,” she said of an LGBT-friendly living community. “We’re like a history book. They do such a good job of keeping historic buildings — why not preserve the historic LGBT seniors?”

Such a place could exist in the near future. The Planning Commission approved a financing plan in early August for developers to turn the abandoned UC Berkeley extension building at Laguna and Haight streets into a 430-unit housing complex. The complex would be a mix of low-income, senior and market-rate housing.

One-hundred and nine units would be set aside for low-income senior housing that Quiton and other LGBT seniors could apply for.

“At least we’d have something in common,” Quiton said. “And as we get older, we’re going to need each other more.”

The project, located at 55 Laguna St., would create one of the first LGBT-welcoming senior communities in the nation, according to Seth Kilborne, executive director of the nonprofit Openhouse.

“If you’re a 75-year-old gay man who wants to go to the senior center down the street, you are walking into the environment of other 75-year-old men who are from a time where being anti-gay was acceptable,” Kilborne said. “So the gay men may be more reluctant to participate in activities, say lunch or an exercise program.”

Kilborne said the discrimination could force many seniors to go “back in the closet,” which could affect their ability to get quality care.

Since the former UC extension campus closed in 2003, developers have tried to create a variety of housing units on the site. Opponents had said the building had historical significance.

Thea Selby, president of the Lower Haight Merchants and Neighborhood Association, said while the group supports the current mixed-housing project, its concern is over the appearance and community involvement.

“We don’t want it to look like a fortress,” Selby said, referring to the 7-foot concrete wall that currently sits on the Haight Street side and conceals any view of the building.

“We really don’t want it to be any sense of a gated community,” Selby said. “We really want it to fit in with the community and be a part of it.”

With the Planning Commission’s approval, Kilborne said, Openhouse and Wood Partners can now begin conceptualizing the project and work out concerns with neighbors.

“I’m hoping in three years we can get started,” he said.

Quiton said if such a project comes to fruition, it will be worth the wait.

“It gives me hope for the future,” she said. “Even if there are 1,000 people in the lottery for an apartment, if I’m meant to live there, I’ll get in.”


New homes

A former UC Berkeley extension building could become a housing complex where low-income LGBT seniors would be welcomed.

109  Housing units

330 Market-rate housing units

35 Market-rate housing units open to all low-income families

2015 Potential opening year

Source: Openhouse

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