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News & opinion

17 JUN 2021

Creating welcoming and affordable housing for LGBTQ+ seniors

Many LGBTQ+ seniors experience discrimination. As the first generation to be open about their sexuality, many are estranged from family and may have faced prejudice leading to fewer work opportunities over their lifetime. Finding affordable and welcoming senior housing that is LGBTQ+-friendly is a bigger challenge for them than it could be for peers their age.

To understand how organisations around the world are addressing this challenge, we speak to Sydney Kopp-Richardson, Director of the National LGBTQ+ Elder Housing Initiative part of SAGE, a group dedicated to advocacy and services for the elderly in the USA, and Mariangela Veronesi, Programme Lead for the global community-led housing programme of World Habitat.

Addressing the need for inclusive retirement housing

Shelter from discrimination, economic hardship and health disparities in affordable LGBTQ+-friendly communities is essential for seniors. According to a 2014 study by the Equal Rights Center in the USA, 48 percent of LGBTQ+ older adults have faced at least one form of rental housing discrimination.

According to a 2014 study in the USA, 48 percent of LGBTQ+ older adults have faced at least one form of rental housing discrimination.

Addressing urgent need for affordable housing for communities locally and nationally in the US, SAGE developed The National Housing Initiative in 2015 through which the organisation is working on creating a continuum of housing interventions for LGBTQ+ older adults, providing them with tools to safely age in place and engage in supportive communities. Headquartered in New York City, and with over 30 affiliates across the nation, SAGE has built a specific model of affordable, congregate, rental housing to address the needs of lower income communities and to receive the necessary funding.

“LGBTQ+-affirming affordable senior housing brings the provision of culturally competent services, the creation of a welcoming community of peers and allies, aging-in-place support, and an emphasis on affordability,” said Kopp-Richardson.

Retirement communities, according to Veronesi, break the dichotomy of the care that you have to identify for yourself or through your family, or an institution that isn’t tailored to your needs.

Reflecting on projects in the UK, Veronesi states that the extra care housing schemes in Manchester and Tonic Housing’s retirement community in London have a lot of community input, which really helps in knowing and addressing people’s needs. In addition, they managed to attract support from local authorities which makes a huge difference [in making the case for public support to LGBTQ+ older communities].

Lifting barriers and creating a welcoming community

A housing solution that alleviates issues faced by the LGBTQ+ elderly is key and the starting point, Veronesi believes, is decreasing loneliness, as this can have an impact on faster decline and physical well-being.

“Community is important for everyone, but when you have been marginalised most of your life, community is where you take your strength from, what spurs you on, what you makes you feel accepted and what enables you to live a fulfilling life,” said Veronesi

“Community is important for everyone, but when you have been marginalised most of your life, community is where you take your strength from, what spurs you on, what you makes you feel accepted and what enables you to live a fulfilling life,” said Veronesi

Creating housing that is a mixture of LGBTQ+ elders and non-LGBTQ+ people has helped support diverse communities for SAGE. One of the most important benefits of this type of housing, according to Kopp-Richardson, is breaking isolation, which often leads to mental and cognitive health decline. The SAGE Center in Stonewall House is one such housing which Kopp-Richardson believes addresses the challenge of LGBTQ+ elders feeling not supported or seen as they age.

Another challenge for SAGE has been the task of developing affordable housing in New York City which is already complex and political, due to the real estate market and scarcity of available or affordable land. Stonewall House was also one of the first housing developments built on New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) land, which caused political tension due to the historically underfunded issues of disrepair in NYC public housing.

Looking to the Future

A key opportunity when it comes to creating affordable inclusive communities is intersectional thinking in housing. Veronesi believes that if this is incorporated, cities could be made available to all groups by being more inclusive.

“The two cities with the largest LGBTQ+ communities in England are where Tonic and Manchester care have been approved, there needs to be a broader range of solutions elsewhere,” emphasises Veronesi.

There are a number of opportunities for organisations like SAGE to explore as well. According to Kopp-Richardson, we stand at a time when design justice is growing and it is a critical time to truly incorporate trauma-informed design and architecture, and community input on how housing is built and fits the need of the community.

  • All images provided by SAGE