We are publishing this report in April 2020 while the COVID-19 pandemic is raging around the world. While this report on housing issues faced by LGBT people was drafted before and does not specifically address COVID-19, we are mindful that the issues we discuss are all the more meaningful when viewed in the context of the current pandemic. Public health professionals are urging, and some governments have ordered, people to shelter at home to help disrupt the spread of the virus. For those who are experiencing homelessness and housing instability, complying with directives to remain at home may be difficult if not impossible. For people living in or near poverty, the present economic turmoil and widespread loss of work could immediately lead to housing instability and even homelessness. Home may not even be a safe and secure place for people experiencing conflict with those with whom they live. And for those living alone, this pandemic could intensify the isolation that many were already experiencing. Each of these concerns is an acute one for the LGBT population in the United States because, as we discuss, LGBT people are more likely than non-LGBT people to be poor, to be renters, to have unstable housing, and to be homeless. Furthermore, LGBT elders are more likely to live alone than non-LGBT elders; LGBTQ youth have high rates of homelessness related, for many, to rejection from their families; and discrimination against LGBT adults in housing and homeless shelters is widespread. LGBT people live throughout the United States, but the cities and states hardest hit by COVID-19 as of this writing are also areas where higher proportions of LGBT adults live. For all of these reasons and others, COVID-19 is inordinately reverberating through many LGBT people’s lives. COVID-19 also highlights even more brightly the need for law and policy, in the United States and beyond, to reduce the vulnerability and stigma that LGBT people experience.
This report synthesizes research and policy related to the housing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the United States, and makes recommendations to address the variety of challenges that we identify.
Compared to non-LGBT people, LGBT people appear to be more likely to face housing unaffordability, are less likely to own their homes and are more likely to be renters, and are more likely to be homeless.
The evidence on housing affordability includes:
- LGBT adults, as a whole, have at least 15% higher odds of being poor than cisgender straight adults after controlling for age, race, urbanicity, employment status, language, education, disability, and other factors that affect risk of poverty (Badgett et al., 2019).
- Among LGBT people, poverty is especially prevalent among racial minorities, bisexuals, women, transgender people, and younger people (e.g., Badgett, 2018; Badgett et al., 2019; Carpenter et al., 2020; Meyer et al., 2019).
The evidence on homeownership includes:
- According to representative data from 35 states, nearly half (49.8%) of LGBT adults own their homes, compared to 70.1% of non-LGBT adults (Conron, 2019).
- Homeownership is even lower among LGBT racial minorities and transgender people (Conron et al., 2018; Meyer et al., 2019).
- Same-sex couples are significantly less likely to own their homes than different-sex couples (63.8% and 75.1%, respectively) (original analyses herein).
- Homeownership is higher among married couples than unmarried couples, but married same-sex couples significantly are less likely to own their homes than married different-sex couples (72% and 79.4%, respectively) (original analyses herein).
The evidence on homelessness includes:
- Studies find that between 20% and 45% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, at least 2 to 4 times more than the estimated percentage of all youth who identify as LGBTQ (e.g., Baams et al., 2019; Choi et al., 2015).
- Among young adults aged 18-25, LGBT people have a 2.2 times greater risk of homelessness than non-LGBT people (Morton, Samuels, et al., 2018).
Stigma and Discrimination
LGBT people face an array of stigma and discrimination across the life course that undermines their ability to have stable, safe, and affordable housing. The evidence includes:
- Family rejection of LGBTQ youth is a major factor contributing to their high levels of homelessness (e.g., Choi et al., 2015; Ecker, 2016), and that rejection diminishes not only the possibility of reunification but also family ties for LGBT people into adulthood and elder years.
- LGBT youth and adults face challenges in accessing homeless shelters and services, such as harassment and violence, staff who are not equipped to appropriately serve LGBT people, and sex-segregated facilities in which transgender people are housed according to their sex assigned at birth (which leads many transgender people to go unsheltered instead).
- LGBT people face widespread harassment and discrimination by housing providers, who, for example, studies have shown are less likely to respond to rental inquiries from same-sex couples (Friedman et al., 2013) and are more likely to quote male same-sex couples higher rents (Levy et al., 2017) than comparable different-sex couples.
- LGBT elders are at risk of being turned away from or charged higher rents at independent or assisted living centers (Equal Rights Center, 2014), as well as harassed, treated poorly, or forced to go back in the closet once moved in (e.g., AARP Research, 2018).
- Same-sex couples face system-wide discrimination by mortgage lenders, with one study finding that, compared to different-sex borrowers of similar profiles, same-sex borrowers experienced a 3% to 8% lower approval rate and, among approved loans, higher interest and/or fees (Sun & Gao, 2019).
- Discrimination against LGBT people in employment and other settings is widespread and can destabilize housing and make it more unaffordable.
- LGBT people may face not only sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in housing but also other forms of disadvantage, such as racial prejudice, language barriers, and inaccessibility related to a disability.
Federal and State Law
Despite evidence of widespread discrimination and its harms, federal, state, and local law provide only a patchwork of protection against anti-LGBT discrimination in housing, lending, and social services—leaving the majority of LGBT people without clear, and possibly no, legal recourse when they face bias because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The legal patchwork includes:
- The federal Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act do not expressly prohibit discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity, but they do prohibit sex discrimination and many courts have concluded anti-LGBT discrimination is a form of sex discrimination under these and similar statutes.
- Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in programs and activities receiving federal funding, does not protect against sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity discrimination.
- Federal regulations prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in programs and activities conducted by, or receiving funding from, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; yet, for instance, Dillbary & Edwards (2019) found systemic discrimination against same-sex male couples seeking mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration.
- Only a minority of states and localities prohibit sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in housing, lending, and/or homeless services.
Among the recommendations that we make are:
- Adoption and enforcement of comprehensive federal and state protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in housing, lending, and government-funded programs and activities, among other settings.
- Evaluation of the extent to which LGBT people face barriers to accessing programs and services aimed at increasing housing affordability and reducing housing instability—such as Section 8 and homebuying programs of the Federal Housing Administration—and execution of corrective actions as necessary.
- Allocation of governmental and private funding to develop and implement evidence-based programs to reduce stigma and discrimination faced by LGBT youth and adults, including within LGBT people’s families-of-origin.
- Expansion of housing and shelter options for LGBT youth and adults so that they are sheltered safely and appropriately.
- Mandated training for all staff at agencies providing housing, child welfare, homelessness, and other relevant services to the LGBT population, in order to ensure that staff become and remain equipped to serve LGBT people in an affirming manner.
- Enhanced data collection and research on housing issues faced by the LGBT population and subpopulations in order to improve our knowledge base and help design interventions.