Planning Today, Thriving Tomorrow Insights from the Inaugural LGBT+ Elder Housing Symposium


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By Sydney Kopp-Richardson, Director, SAGE’s National LGBT+ Elder Housing Initiative and Hala Farid, Citi Community Development

Finding a safe, affordable home to grow old in is a concern for millions of aging people across the United States. Older LGBT+ people’s concerns are exacerbated by experiences of discrimination—by property managers, staff, other residents, or service providers—when seeking rental and senior housing. Research shows that 48% of same-sex couples are subjected to discrimination when applying for housing. Housing for LGBT+ elders can be miserable or even life-threatening. Compared to their heterosexual and cisgender peers, LGBT+  elders are twice as likely to be single and live alone, four times less likely to have children, far more likely to have faced discrimination and social stigma and therefore, more likely to face poverty and homelessness.

Two weeks ago, SAGE brought together developers, nonprofit practitioners, and policy experts from across the nation for its inaugural LGBT+ Housing Symposium in Washington, D.C. As the first national housing symposium of its kind, and with support from presenting sponsor and long-time champion Citi Community Development, participants discussed how to develop culturally competent LGBT+-affirming housing, and established new partnerships to increase LGBT+-inclusive housing nationwide.

The convening made seven things clear:

  1. Meaningful opportunities to advance LGBT+-affirming housing exist across the United States, including within many municipalities, housing organizations and LGBT+ service providers are starting to identify, champion, and model inclusive housing strategies for aging LGBT+ elders.
  2. Everyone has different needs. LGBT+ older people face unique barriers, not just different from their heterosexual peers, but often times from each other as well.  Residents often range in age and represent different races, religions, health conditions, etc. Therefore, it is critical to design residences and support systems that are flexible in meeting a wide range of needs.
  3. Efforts to drive inclusion of aging LGBT+ populations must continue once residents move in. Where possible, residents can and should be included in the design, engagement and leadership of making communities their homes. Property management also plays a critical role in ensuring that residents continue to receive quality infrastructure, support and environment that delivers the respect they deserve.
  1. Location matters. Housing rules, regulations and agencies are different and vary across states and municipalities. This means that solutions do not always translate from one city to another and should be responsive to take local context into account.
  2. It is vital to recognize intersectionality, hostility, and stigma. Certain populations within LGBT+ aging communities face increasingly hostile forms of oppression in the current political landscape, with trans and gender non-conforming people of color disproportionately experiencing systemic and social violence. Acknowledging the importance of race, ability, gender identity, and other intersections of identity that create compounded discrimination for LGBT+ elders is a first key step.
  3. We must use an equity lens in addressing the needs of LGBT+ people of color.
  4. Public policy changes play a critical, influential role. From the Fair Housing Act to the Equality Act, legislation is playing a key role in the fight to protect LGBT+ individuals against discrimination.

SAGE and Citi share a vision to make housing more inclusive and welcoming for LGBT+ elders. And, we recognize that by making it more accessible for this group, it will expand access for other vulnerable populations as well. We are grateful for the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with leading housing organizations and service providers that are moving the needle on expanding access to more inclusive housing.

Barbara Satin, a prominent transgender activist and the event’s keynote speaker summarized our collective mission best, when she said, “Home is not just about a structure and amenities, but the environment that surrounds that space, built on respect, understanding and love. LGBT+ older people have lived through challenging times and deserve a place they can thrive and not hide behind doors. Do your work, and somewhere in your mind, love them first.”

We hope that as many organizations as possible join us in this effort.

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