For Donald Carter, the groundbreaking of an LGBT-friendly senior housing facility meant more than just the creation of a facility. It was the culmination of more than 40 years of activism.
"I started this experience as an outlaw, a social outlaw, a sexual outlaw," said Carter, a gay African American who began demonstrating in the 1960s for rights for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.
Now 62, Carter was in attendance as city, state, and federal officials broke ground Friday for the first LGBT-friendly senior housing facility in the nation, the John C. Anderson Apartments on the 200 block of South 13th Street.
Located in the heart of the "gayborhood," the complex will serve low-income seniors. While LGBT-friendly, the complex won't be exclusively for LGBT residents.
The publisher of Philadelphia Gay News and longtime LGBT activist, Mark Segal, pushed the project and said it offered a place for the LGBT community to gather, just as an African American or a Catholic center would.
"We have seniors like Donald Carter, who lives in West Philadelphia, 62 years old," Segal said. "This is his community. Why can't he live in his community with dignity in his golden years?"
The groundbreaking ceremony was held under a tent in the middle of 13th Street in front of the construction site.
Mayor Nutter welcomed the housing to serve the many LGBT advocates in the city since the 1960s.
"Some of those fighters are now entering their golden years," Nutter said. "This center will support people of that generation and others in securing their most basic needs for a good place to call home."
The ceremony also honored six LGBT "pioneers" who signed a pane of glass that will be included in the complex.
Segal said the idea for the facility started about eight years ago and received a push in the last three years when it got state and federal funding.
The six-story, 56-unit complex was originally named the William Way Senior Residences but was renamed for the late John C. Anderson, a city councilman who worked for gay rights.
The $19.5 million project is run through the dmhFund, a nonprofit that supports programs on behalf of the LGBT community, and Pennrose Properties, an affordable housing developer.
The project will be funded through a Philadelphia HOME grant, Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funds, and low-income housing tax credits. It will include a 5,000 square-foot courtyard and 2,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.
Segal said that after years of work, he's "ecstatic" that the building will finally be constructed.
"I, right now, am the happiest I probably ever will be in my life," Segal said. "I'm sure there's going to be another milestone, but today made me feel like a proud Philadelphian."
Segal added that he was working with other cities that were looking into similar structures, including San Francisco.
"We're already talking with other cities around the country who either have started already, are in the process, or are basically stuck," Segal said.
Rent will be between $165 and $785 per month depending on the income tier of the resident. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.