Wilton Manors, Florida, a city located just north of Fort Lauderdale, is home to 12,756 residents — nearly 25 percent of whom are age 65 or older. In a review of 2010 Census data, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles noted that Wilton Manors has the second highest rate of same-sex couples in the United States: Wilton Manors has 125 gay couples per 1,000 households while San Francisco, by comparison, has 30.
Wilton Manors joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities in 2018 and is in the process of publishing its age-friendly action plan.
- Johnnie Goodnight, liaison to the LGBT+ community and the City of Wilton Manors Community Affairs Advisory Board
- Housing and services for LGBT+ older adults
Goodnight describes Wilton Manors' age-friendly work in support of LGBT+ older adults:
Creating a Safe, Affordable Home to Age-in-Place
“Wilton Manors is home to many older LGBT+ adults, and we are focusing on the issue of social isolation and providing affordable, accessible housing for this population," says Goodnight. "We want to make sure that LGBT+ seniors don’t 'Go back into the closet' as they age, as many don't feel safe coming out to medical providers or caregivers, and they sometimes feel uncomfortable in ‘mainstream’ assisted living facilities. Many older community members in Wilton Manors don't have children, or don't have relatives nearby, which makes it difficult for them to reside in their homes as they age."
One of Age-Friendly Wilton Manors' major partners is the Pride Center at Equality Park, which has been operating since 1993 and provides LGBT+-focused health care and safety net services, social and educational opportunities and office space for sister organizations and programs. The center's active aging programming is one of the nation’s largest LGBT+ senior programs and its events reach thousands each year. A key component of Age-Friendly Wilton Manors' action plan was supporting the construction of the center’s Residences at Equality Park, an affordable housing project for senior adults, with a special focus on LGBT+ individuals.
The Equality Park residence is Florida’s first affordable housing community with customized supportive services for LGBT+ seniors. The project gives residents a safe place to live and the services they need to age in place. The city provided financial support for the project and the first 48 units (out of a future total of 130) opened in October 2020.
"The Pride Center received nearly 1,500 applications for the 48 units, so we know there's a huge demand for affordable senior housing in South Florida," says Goodnight.
The city's action plan also calls for making its streets more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly. "We recently acquired property to upgrade access to one of our popular parks so it's easier to enter if someone is using a wheelchair or has difficulties walking," Goodnight explains.
Activating Civic Participation
The Community Affairs Advisory Board, which is made up of engaged volunteers, leads Wilton Manors’ participation in the AARP age-friendly network. The board submitted the city's application and led its community survey.
"Through the survey we discovered the community wasn’t aware of the city's programs," says Goodnight. To get the word out about what's available and how to access it, the board created the Wilton Manors Senior Resource Guide.
"During the pandemic we've been able to activate volunteers from our retiree community. As we checked in on our vulnerable homebound seniors, we learned that they needed face masks and home food deliveries," notes Goodnight. "Our volunteers helped staff food distribution events. Volunteering helps to reduce social isolation and keeps our senior population active in community life."
Marrying the Personal and Professional
"My husband and I moved to our dream retirement home in Wilton Manors after long careers in Southern California — and we both started second careers working for the city!" Goodnight shares. "As a same-sex couple that has been together for more than 40 years, it was our dream to move to a city with a large LGBT+ population that was also age-friendly. We've been in Wilton Manors for seven years and absolutely love it here! I was always fascinated by seniors who reinvent themselves. I never thought I’d become one of them!”
- City of Wilton Manors Community Affairs Advisory Board
- Residences at Equality Park
- Wilton Manors Senior Resource Guide
- Learn about the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities
- Check out the network's Member List
- Connect with AARP Florida
- Find Age-Friendly Responses to COVID-19
Visit "Age-Friendly Network Communities and Equity" to read about another community. »
The weekly, award-winning AARP Livable Communities e-Newsletter provides local leaders with information and inspiration for making their town, city or neighborhood more livable for older adults and people of all ages. Subscribe today!