LGBTQ+ seniors living in Washington, D.C. have a new opportunity to find safe and secure housing.
The D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs is launching a new program called Housing Older People Efficiently, or HOPE. According to the LGBTQ+ newspaper Washington Blade, the initiative is a partnership between the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and the D.C. Housing Authority in conjunction with the local advocacy organization Mary’s House for Older Adults.
To assist LGBTQ+ seniors in covering their rent, HOPE will be offering 15 vouchers to help low-income individuals offset their household expenses.
Currently, nine individuals have already been approved for the program. While HOPE has received applications for each of the six remaining slots, program director LeAndrea Gilliam told the Blade that the deadline is rolling, meaning that others can still apply.
According to representatives with HOPE, applicants must be currently homeless or “unstably housed” to be eligible for admission into the program. Gilliam defined the latter term as referring to someone who is homeless but temporarily living in a “couch sleeping” situation, which was confirmed by Sheila Alexander-Reid of the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office.
Others who are welcome to apply include LGBTQ+ seniors temporarily living in city-run transitional housing facilities, such as homeless shelters, who have been ordered to find a permanent residence.
“I can just say personally in interacting with all the clients and applicants that I have worked with so far, I know that they are very grateful,” Gilliam told Blade.
To enforce safe housing, organizers say they’ll ensure D.C. Housing Authority helps tenants from the program communicate with landlords to charge rent in the “normal market range.” Still, participants will have to find an apartment on their own and cover rent equal to 30% of their income. If they are without income or have low Social Security payments, Gilliam said the program will pay the full rent.
Like many cities, D.C. encompasses a large LGBTQ+ homeless population. According to D.C. homeless housing service provider Friendship Place, over 40% of homeless youth in D.C. are queer or transgender. However, they won’t be eligible for the housing program, which is only available to LGBTQ+ seniors over 62 years old.
The D.C. Council allotted $348,964 for the program’s 2021 fiscal year, but this allocation is lower than organizers hoped for. “We need at least 30 vouchers,” Dr. Imani Woody, Mary’s House president and CEO, told the Blade.
The lack of sustainable housing for LGBTQ+ seniors is an ongoing concern for older adults across the country. According to a 2014 study by the Equal Rights Center, LGBTQ+ seniors are 48% more likely to face homelessness and poverty because of discrimination, such as being forced out of their living situation.
Many older adults go back into the closet to avoid bias. Of LGBTQ+ individuals living in senior care facilities, only 22% felt they could be open about their identities in a 2015 study from Fenway Health. A whopping 90% feared mistreatment from staff members if they were open about their personal lives, while 43% said they had been abused or denied services because of their identity.