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SAGE’s Aggressive Initiative to Battle Housing Discrimination Against LGBT Elders
posted 08.04.2015

By Michael Adams

One piece of big news out of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) was the announcement by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) that it is taking strong steps to eradicate discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults living in government-assisted housing. SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), the country's largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults, made action by HUD one of its top advocacy priorities at the WHCOA, because evidence clearly demonstrates that discrimination against LGBT older adults in senior housing is rampant.

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More articles in this series...

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Staff Training Is Key to Creating an LGBT-Friendly Housing Environment
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Opening Doors, a 2014 study by the Equal Rights Center, documents a stunning 48 percent of LGBT older adults who seek to rent senior housing are discriminated against. Opening Doors helps explain why LGBT older people consistently rank access to welcoming housing as one of their biggest challenges. The study also illustrates the context for pioneering efforts in a handful of U.S. cities to build housing that has been created with the specific purpose of providing LGBT-friendly living environments.

Housing developments like Triangle Square in Los Angeles and the John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia are important steps forward. But the scale of the housing crisis facing LGBT elders is too enormous to build our way out of it. The number of LGBT-friendly units needed dwarfs existing or potential resources. Moreover, while many LGBT older people have expressed interest in senior housing built specifically with them in mind, many others prefer to age in place in the integrated communities where they have always lived. The bottom line is that most LGBT older adults will grow old living in the same places as other older Americans. And at the moment, those places are riddled with discrimination.

Earlier this year SAGE brought together a group of national and local partners to launch an aggressive national LGBT elder housing initiative to battle such discrimination. As problems of this scale are complex, SAGE’s housing initiative includes five prongs. First, SAGE will build LGBT-friendly senior housing in select cities across the country (we’re currently pursuing plans for a project in the Bronx borough of New York City) and will use our advocacy and resource-sharing platforms to help others do the same. Through these efforts, we hope to ensure a healthy supply of affordable housing in intentional LGBT-friendly senior residential communities.

Second, SAGE will deploy its National Resource Center on LGBT Aging to provide much-needed training to senior housing providers to equip them with the knowledge and tools necessary to ensure their facilities are discrimination-free and welcoming to LGBT older people. Evaluation data from the National Resource Center—a collaboration with the U.S. Administration on Aging—demonstrates that rigorous and sustained cultural competency training is effective in improving the experiences of LGBT elders. In jurisdictions that have enacted laws specifically barring anti-LGBT discrimination, legal compliance training can complement cultural competency tools.

Third, SAGE’s federal relations arm will engage in aggressive policy advocacy to establish strong legal protections for LGBT older adults facing housing discrimination (the new HUD measures are an early example). SAGE affiliates in 20 states across the country have pledged to match this effort with advocacy to establish similar protections at the state and local level. While legal protections alone will not end bias, the Opening Doors study indicates that discrimination occurs less frequently in jurisdictions where such protections exist.

Fourth, recognizing that there is a dearth of helpful housing information available to LGBT older people, SAGE’s initiative will provide consumer resources on how to find LGBT-friendly housing and how to take action when discrimination is suspected. These resources will give LGBT older adults the tools they need to effectively advocate for themselves and address their housing needs.

Finally, SAGE and our partners will work to expand LGBT-friendly services in housing sites across the country so that housing is one part of a holistic effort to ensure that LGBT older people have the supports they need as they age.

Given the scale of the housing crisis facing LGBT older adults, it’s going to require an ambitious, multi-pronged effort like this to make the needed difference. And it’s going to take the active support of government, the housing sector and philanthropy. Early support for SAGE’s initiative suggests reason for optimism. HUD has pledged its partnership in the effort, and took an important first step with the announcement of its plans to combat anti-LGBT discrimination in federally assisted housing. Enterprise Community Partners, a national housing leader, has joined the effort. And the Calamus Foundation has made an anchor grant of $1 million to support the national LGBT elder housing initiative. In the months and years ahead, SAGE and its partners hope to build additional momentum to definitively address the acute housing needs of our nation’s LGBT elders.

Michael Adams is executive director of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, Inc. (SAGE) in New York, NY.

This article was brought to you by ASA's LGBT Aging Issues Network.

Check your mailbox (and online) in early November for Aging Today’s In Focus section called “A Place to Call Home: Where Will We Live as We Age,” for more important articles on the evolution of elder housing, from low-income options to the psychology of moving to creative solutions for older adults who would rather age-in-place. 

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