Housing for LGBTQ+ Older People

Written by Kylie Madhav, Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at SAGE

Since 1963, May has been recognized as Older Americans Month. During this month, individuals, organizations and families endeavor to highlight both the contributions of older adults to the communities in which they reside and the challenges that they often face in leading the lives they desire for themselves. The voices of older people – particularly those of color and those of modest means – are often absent from our society’s most consequential decision-making fora. Older Americans Month invites us to recenter the narratives and experiences of our elders and to honor and respect them as the crucial transmitters of collective knowledge and culture that they are.

In the spirit of this month – and in observance of the annual National Honor Our LGBTQ+ Elders Day on May 16, I would like to draw attention to an area where many older people – especially LGBTQ+ older people – encounter significant difficulties: access to safe and affordable housing.

Barriers to Housing for LGBTQ+ Older People

Because of entrenched transphobic and homophobic biases that pervade our society, many LGBTQ+ elders often experience discrimination — by property managers, staff, other residents, or service providers — when seeking rental and senior housing. According to an Equal Rights Center report, 48 percent of older same-sex couples applying for senior housing were subjected to discrimination. On top of that, 50 percent of single LGBTQ+ older people believe they will have to work well beyond the retirement age, compared to 27 percent of their single, non-LGBTQ+ peers, and 51% of LGBTQ+ elders are very or extremely concerned about having enough money to live on, compared to 36 percent of non-LGBTQ+ peers.

Transgender and nonbinary (TGNB) elders and older people of color – particularly Black elders – face even more formidable barriers to housing. Home ownership rates are an important metric for assessing housing security among a given population. TGNB people have been found to be less likely than other members of the LGBTQ+ community to own a home. According to the 2022 AARP Dignity Survey, 71 percent of respondents over the age of 65 owned a home. However, only 43 percent of TGNB respondents indicated being homeowners. In this same survey, Black and Latino respondents were found to own homes at rate of 42 percent and 54 percent, respectively. These figures were well below the 62 percent survey-wide homeownership rate.

Implementing Legal Protections

This inequitable situation is enabled in part by the fact that there are currently no federal laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in housing, and half of all LGBTQ+ elders live in a state where they can be legally denied access to housing and public accommodations. But a dearth of legal protections is far from the only contributing factor. There are myriad other systemic inequalities that place LGBTQ+ older people at greater risk of housing precarity. Among them are:

Shelter access and safety. In many jurisdictions, local shelter systems serve as a conduit or mandatory first step to long-term housing for the unhoused. However, for example, if common referral services are not safe for TGNB people, then how are trans folks deemed visible – and even eligible – for housing and services? Because of the gender-segregated and trans-exclusionary nature of many shelters, many trans people would rather be street homeless than enter an unsafe shelter system.
Aging care facility competencies and safety. As is true of the shelter system, nursing homes, hospice care, and other aging services often do not have a history of addressing LGBTQ+ elders’ specific challenges and needs. This may make some LGBTQ+ elders reluctant to seek care in these spaces, even if they might be able to afford it.
Family of origin rejection/loss. LGBTQ+ elders are more likely to lack familial support compared to straight and cisgender counterparts. They are also less likely to have children on whom they might rely for support.
Chronic, protracted discrimination. A lifetime of discrimination experienced at home, in society, and at work means that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to live in financial precarity as they age, given that they are less likely to have been able to accrue the resources necessary to sustain themselves in retirement.
Health care discrimination. Many readers might not see an immediate connection between healthcare and housing. But being unable to access doctors who are accepting and understanding of LGBTQ+ identities means that many LGBTQ+ people are not able to access, or may choose to postpone, necessary healthcare. Over one’s lifetime, this can beget manifold challenges, including placing LGBTQ+ elders at higher risk of experiencing depression, anxiety, and a host of somatic health challenges. The higher incidence of these conditions among LGBTQ+ elders is yet another factor that may impede them from acquiring or maintaining stable housing.

Addressing Housing Insecurity Through Policy

At SAGE, we work to address these persistent inequities through an array of community-oriented initiatives. Our advocacy team continues to encourage federal legislators to pass the Equality and LGBTQ Data Inclusion Acts. The former, if passed, would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity nationwide in employment, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit, jury service, and housing. The latter would require federal agencies that are already collecting demographic data to start collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data.

At the state level, SAGE works with New York State lawmakers to garner their support for the LGBTQ+ Long-Term Care Residents Bill of Rights. This bill of rights would update New York’s Elder Law to protect the rights and needs of LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV/AIDS in long-term care facilities across the state​.

Since 2020, SAGE has also spearheaded the creation of two LGBTQ+-affirming housing ventures – Crotona Pride House in the Bronx and Stonewall House in Brooklyn.

SAGE’s approach to addressing housing insecurity among LGBTQ+ elders is multipronged, but our efforts can only be enhanced as more and more organizations join us in our efforts to confront the unique housing challenges faced by older LGBTQ+ people. By working in tandem, we can undo the profound injustices wrought by generations of intolerance and ensure that older people – LGBTQ+ or otherwise – are able to live with the dignity and respect that we all deserve.