For the first time, Washington, D.C. plans to have senior housing for LGBTQ people. A D.C. resident, Imani Woody, started a nonprofit, Mary’s Place, dedicated to housing for LGBTQ seniors. The senior housing development, which would be a 15-unit residence, is scheduled to open in 2020, according to The Renewal Project, a division of The Atlantic. Woody is still searching for a developer.
Washington, D.C. has the highest percentage of people who identify as LGBTQ, at 8.6 percent, but there is currently no housing for LGBTQ seniors. There is a national need for LGBTQ-specific housing, since housing discrimination is an ongoing problem for this population. Only the District of Columbia and 20 states prohibit housing discrimination of LGBTQ people. A 2013 HUD survey showed that same-sex couples were less likely to receive a positive response when they apply for housing, and a 2012 national survey showed that 19 percent of transgender people were refused housing.
On the federal level, the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to refuse to rent or sell to someone because of sex, familial status, or national origin. In April, a federal judge ruled that the law includes LGBTQ people, even though the law does not mention LGBTQ people specifically. The case involved two women in a relationship, one of whom is a transgender woman, being denied housing because their relationship would make it impossible for the landlord to keep a “low profile” in town.
That’s not enough to ease concerns, however. Some LGBTQ advocates fear that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, who has a record of making queerphobic and transphobic statements, would roll back the Equal Access rule. The rule makes it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in housing that receives funding from HUD or is insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
The unsettled legal landscape has implications for LGBTQ seniors, who may be more financially vulnerable than their straight and cisgender peers. A July survey by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. of middle-income Americans found that 60 percent of LGBTQ people report worrying every day about the household finances, compared to 53 percent of the general population. The D.C. development that is scheduled to open in 2020 would have low and moderate prices, which would hopefully make it easier for LGBTQ seniors to find a place to stay.
More of these housing developments for LGBTQ seniors are being built across the country. In New York City, a nonprofit advocacy organization, SAGE plans to build the city’s first subsidized housing designed for LGBTQ seniors, with the help of several partners. There would be a 145-unit affordable senior housing development in Brooklyn and an 82-unit development in the Bronx.
Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have already led the way on LGBTQ-inclusive senior housing. Surveys show that inclusive housing with culturally competent staff is still far too rare. A National Resource Center on LGBT Aging survey on LGBTQ seniors found that participants said they were refused basic services by staff while they were in long-term care. Twenty-three percent of seniors surveyed said they were verbally or physically harassed by other residents due to real or perceived gender and sexual orientation. Fourteen percent were verbally or physically harassed by staff. According to a survey from the LGBT Aging Project, only 22 percent of LGBTQ people said they were comfortable being open about their sexuality and 43 percent reported examples of mistreatment by staff.
LGBTQ seniors are often grappling with a lack of social support from family and friends. Although many seniors feel socially isolated, LGBTQ seniors are more likely to suffer from this isolation, potentially increasing clinical depression and anxiety, according to a PBS Newshour project on LGBTQ senior care. With more senior centers for LGBTQ seniors, they may finally receive the social support and care they need.