How Can the Housing Industry Meet the Unique Needs of the LGBTQ+ Elder Population?
The LGBTQ+ community faces some similar homeownership barriers as other underserved communities. But its members also encounter ones that are less common or even unknown to other segments of the U.S. population.
These challenges impact their lives in both the short and long term, including the ability to build generational wealth and financial security through homeownership.
By 2030, the number of LGBTQ+ Americans aged 50 and over is expected to increase from around 3 million to 7 million.
It’s important for the housing industry to consider the affordable housing needs of this growing demographic while collaborating to provide understanding, strategic resources, and other ways to address barriers.
During a recent Freddie Mac LGTBTQ+ Housing Summit, industry leaders from across the housing ecosystem convened to provide their input and expertise on obstacles and solutions.
The homeownership rate for LGBTQ+ adults is just under 50%, compared to 65.4% for non-LGBTQ+ adults. Among LGBTQ+ elders, there are pronounced disparities in financial and household situations. According to SAGE, U.S.’s largest and oldest organization providing advocacy and services for LGBTQ+ older people, this demographic comprises a higher percentage of sole-person households as they are twice as likely to be single and live alone and four times less likely to have children than their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts. Factors related to workplace and housing discrimination, social and familial ostracization, and financial limitations may make it difficult for them find affordable homes or age in place.
Longstanding Economic, Employment and Social Factors Are Woven Into the LGBTQ+ Experience
Few formal studies exist about the LGBTQ+ population, underscoring the importance of respected leaders to provide boots on the ground expertise based on years of experience working with this group. Deep-rooted obstacles impacting homeownership—financial and otherwise—identified by Freddie Mac and SAGE representatives for the housing industry to recognize and address include:
- A history of workplace discrimination. Many LGBTQ+ elders were alive at a time when acting on their identity or orientation was illegal; in some places it’s still grounds for termination. Forty six percent of LGBTQ+ employees report having experienced workplace discrimination, and 22% are not paid or promoted at the same level as their non-LGBTQ+ colleagues.
- Being disproportionately rejected by family members, which could limit financial support and security while burdening them with student loan and other debt.
- High costs associated with the process of starting a family including fertility treatments and adoption; the cost of an egg donor and surrogate can reach $100,000.
- Housing discrimination, which may lead to a culture of silence and feeling unable to be “out” and authentic when seeking a place to live.
- Finding affordable housing or seeking retirement in more accepting areas, which are already more expensive and becoming increasingly scarce due to gentrification and displacement.
Within the LGBTQ+ population are subcommunities with their own challenges. The transgender population may face the costs of medical transitioning, and split credit scores and erroneous fraudulent red flags due to chosen versus birth names and identities. Sixty-nine percent of the gender expansive community fears discrimination during the homebuying process.
The intersectionality of race and ethnicity with gender identity or sexual orientation may compound discrimination, intensify isolation, and make aging safely in place more difficult.
According to the Black LGBTQ Community Study in which Freddie Mac partnered, just 33% of Black LGBTQ+ Americans own their own homes versus 42% of all Black Americans.
The Housing Ecosystem Can Be Part of the Solution to Assist LGBTQ+ Elders
In 2021, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it would enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. On the state level, the New York State Legislature has amended the Human Rights Law through the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) to explicitly add gender identity or expression as a protected category. However, there is still much practical work to be done in order ensure that these Americans have access to safe, affordable housing that meets their needs.
The housing industry can offer inclusive support that starts from a point of understanding LGBTQ+ history and its impact on current economic and social systems, including training on inclusion and safety for the aging LGBTQ+ community. Freddie Mac and SAGE experts identified other ways to assist including:
- Developing affirming and culturally relevant housing models, including LGBTQ+ senior housing.
- Understanding desired home needs and amenities. LGBTQ+ adults are much more likely than other Americans to purchase older, smaller homes in urban settings.
- Examining systemic barriers including credit history, lack of “on the books” work history, and legacies of discriminatory housing policies, to create a robust approach to inequalities.
- Widening outreach to determine which communities are underserved and why, while considering whether organizations center ethnic and racial inclusivity.
- Identifying and offering financial help including down payment assistance, since this demographic is less likely to have accumulated wealth or attained economic security.
- Recognizing with compassion the hurdles to aging in place including minimal family and social networks, seeming invisibility and health issues from medical care discrimination or avoidance.
As many of these issues are systemic, ingrained, and pervasive, no single (or easy) solution exists. However, with a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the challenges facing LGBTQ+ elders, the industry can collaborate, assist, and support them so they may attain housing security in their later years.