SAGE Holds Third Annual LGBT Elder Housing Symposium via 2021 Virtual Institute
SAGE gathered experts in the housing field to elevate LGBTQ+ elder housing issues and collaborate on innovative partnerships and solutions.
On September 23 and 24, SAGE built on the previous two years’ national LGBTQ+ elder housing symposia with a two-day virtual institute. The 2021 Virtual Institute had an array of engaging workshops, group problem-solving, and ongoing learning, focusing on anti-racism and our responsibility to cultivate safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people to age. The mainstream housing sector, community advocates, LGBTQ+ activists, policy experts, and community members came together to understand the housing challenges facing older LGBTQ+ people. Participants shared and expanded their knowledge by platforming best practices in LGBTQ+-affirming affordable rental housing and developing solutions to include innovative models and methods for LGBTQ+ elders to age in housing with dignity and care.
Highlights include a keynote from Dr. Imani Woody of Mary’s House for Older Adults in Washington, D.C; an interactive design justice workshop from Peter Robinson of BlackSpace Urbanist Collective; and a wide range of housing and community development expertise from national advocates representing Philadelphia, Memphis, Baltimore, Akron, Sacramento, Houston, and more.
SAGE is profoundly grateful to Citi for its support of the National LGBT Elder Housing Virtual Institute and for Citi’s sustained support of SAGE’s National LGBT Elder Housing Initiative (NHI).
Kicking off the event, Dr. Imani Woody discussed how ageism compounds the barriers faced by LGBTQ+/SGL elders, particularly within the context of economic disparities, unmitigated racism and xenophobia, and culturally inappropriate aging and medical care.
Peter Robinson of BlackSpace Urbanist Collective led an interactive workshop with participants on design justice and the use of space as healing. Robinson discussed how urban planning and design can surveil and police, but also cultivate collective visibility and care. The BlackSpace Heritage Conservation Booklet and Manifesto are tools to help urban planners manifest new public and housing spaces within this historical and political context.
Additionally, on the day’s first panel, practitioners discussed best practices and lessons learned in LGBTQ+ elder housing developments. Leaders in the LGBTQ+-affirming housing development process discussed unique barriers LGBTQ+ older people face in seeking safe housing. Solutions included focusing on holistic housing development, cultural competency and trauma-informed care in services, training in the planning process, and critical financing considerations.
Day 2 of the institute began with a warm welcome from SAGE CEO Michael Adams. He laid the foundation of SAGE’s local and national housing advocacy within the context of the disparities magnified by the pandemic. Adams reminded attendees that one of the most telling predictors of wellness, safety, and a sense of belonging lies in housing that allows all LGBTQ+ people to age with dignity in community.
SAGE’s Director of the National LGBT Elder Housing Initiative, Sydney Kopp-Richardson, facilitated a roundtable discussion with advocates across the country to discuss local needs and innovative practices to address the unique nuance of deeply vulnerable communities. These key populations include Black communities facing displacement, transgender elders and youth, and isolated elders. SAGE was happy to feature national representation and leaders from Memphis, Northeast Ohio, and New York City.
Institute participants were then welcomed into small breakout cohort sessions focused on federal policy priorities, housing for transgender communities, philanthropy, aging, telehealth, and reaching rural elders. Attendees mapped goals through visioning, policy prioritization, and needs assessments from both a national and local lens.
Following a full day, institute attendees came together for a closing reception, including a rousing bingo session hosted by drag king extraordinaire Murray Hill.
Key Learnings and Takeaways
The key takeaways distilled from each section of the day were as follows:
- Policy is not neutral and must be leveraged towards the mission. Unjust housing policies disproportionately impact housing access, carceral violence, and access to or exclusion from affordable housing for communities of color—particularly Black communities. But policy and urban planning can also cultivate new models of collective visibility, affinity, and community healing.
- New models are promising and necessary. Because we cannot build enough affirming housing at the rate to match the need, we must innovate and explore new housing systems, such as community land trusts, collective housing, tiny homes, and intergenerational communities. New models can also provide more autonomy and fewer funding restrictions for small community-based organizations.
- Mission alignment is essential to preserve LGBTQ+ space perpetually, so holistic staff engagement and training are necessary to ensure all stakeholders are on the same page. This means training all staff—from security staff to service providers to property management—and engaging with residents through trauma-informed programming, mission, and support.
- Racial equity and trans equity must be prioritized in housing development. Affordable housing access is critical for Black, Indigenous, and Brown communities, as well as transgender communities, to address legacies of exclusion and violence. This happens by robustly supporting and financing BIPOC and trans leadership and organizing, both locally and nationally, that are often less resourced than large white and cisgender-led nonprofits and housing developers.
- Culturally appropriate and affirming support for LGBTQ+ elders must continue once residents move in. Where possible, residents can and should be included in their homes’ design, engagement, and leadership. Property management also plays a critical role in ensuring that residents continue to receive the culturally-affirming support and respect they deserve, cultivating more positive health outcomes and long-term housing stability.
- Regional context is diverse, and local advocacy is important. Housing landscape, financing, populations, and political will are different across states and municipalities. We must create solutions that are responsive by listening to local leadership, supporting advocates doing the groundwork, adequately funding local communities, and engaging in local political participation.
- Housing and care are a continuum. Beyond affordable rental units, it is up to all of us to rethink how we share space and goods. Homesharing, community land trusts, bartering systems, and collective living are all ways to break isolation, redefine ownership, and address scarcity. These are also all long-standing strategies of care intrinsic to LGBTQ+ survival.
- In housing justice, we must address intersectionality, discrimination, and violence. Certain populations within LGBTQ+ aging communities face increasingly hostile forms of oppression in the current political landscape, with transgender and gender non-conforming people of color disproportionately experiencing systemic and social violence. Race, ability, gender identity, and other intersections of identity create compounded discrimination for LGBTQ+ elders, which manifests in barriers to safe and affordable housing.
Giovonni Santiago reminded us all: “People don’t fall through the cracks, people are pushed through the cracks.” In an era of amplified disparity, let us center accountability, responsiveness, and preventative solutions to ensure LGBTQ+ elders, and all communities fighting for justice, are afforded access to safe, affordable housing and community. Our collective network will continue to build this movement and this agenda.