It’s June, so it’s time to celebrate our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ+ community. Although this is a month of celebration, we must remember that Pride started as a protest against inequality in 1970. Fifty-four years later we still need to talk about the inequity that the LGBTQ+ community still faces today. Being aware of the economic disparities and discrimination that the LGBTQ+ community faces, shows us why we all need to be involved in ensuring everyone has access to housing stability despite sexual and gender orientation as housing stability is still a distant dream for many.

When we talk about housing affordability, we must first agree on the definition of affordable. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines affordable housing as a household spending 30 percent or less of its after-tax income on monthly rent or mortgage payments with the inclusion of utilities.  This certainly isn’t the case for most people. According to research at USC in 2019, 73% of households spend over 30% of their income on rent and utilities in Los Angeles. 48% spend over 50% of household income on rent and utilities.

Knowing what percentage of the people surveyed fall within the LGBTQ+ population tends to be difficult as many surveys don’t require sexual orientation or gender identity within the demographic data taken. Based on the key findings from the USC research, it looks as though researchers asked about demographics of race, education, and language, but not gender or sexual orientation. Even with the deficiency in data, we know through UCLA’s research in 2019 that 21.6% of LGBTQ+ adults in the U.S. were living in poverty compared to 15.7% of cisgender straight adults. The report explains that same-sex couples were more likely to face poverty than different-sex couples. The statistics get worse for transgender people and people of color. This poverty index allows us to know how disproportionate the rent burden can be for those within the LGBTQ+ community.

One way to relieve the housing burden is to forgo renting and own a home. Nationally, 22.5% of homeowners paid more than 30% of their income whereas nearly half of renters were burdened.  According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (2018), among the 18.2 million U.S. households spending 50% or more on housing, 10.8 million were renters. Again, population-based data to analyze LGBTQ+ homeownership is scarce due to the demographic data collected. Still, with the help of surveys, we can conclude that LGBTQ+ adults are less likely to become homeowners than their heterosexual counterparts. According to a study by Freddie Mac in 2018, 49% of LGBTQ+ adults own their homes compared to 64% of the U.S. population. Homeownership is lowest among transgender adults as 25% are homeowners compared to 58% of cisgender adults. The low rates of home ownership can be easily connected to the higher rates of poverty within the LGBTQ+ community. The most frequent barrier to home ownership includes saving for a downpayment.

Socioeconomic Disparities

The inequality in housing for the LGBTQ+ community is attributed to subsequent socioeconomic disparities. As we’ve maintained, LGBTQ+ adults are significantly more likely to live in poverty than their straight and cisgender counterparts. One can easily point to the cause of this by looking at wage inequality. According to research done by the HRC Foundation (2020), full-time LGBTQ+ workers tend to earn approximately 90 cents for every dollar of a typical worker. Black workers earn approximately 80 cents while trans men, nonbinary, genderqueer, genderfluid, and two-spirit workers earn approximately 70 cents. Trans women earn the least amount of money at 60 cents for every dollar.

The lower wages reported are due to the higher rates of underemployment or employment to part-time/temporary work, which typically provides lower wages. The top five industries for LGBTQ+ adults include some of the lowest-paying sectors such as the restaurant, hospital, education, and retail industries. Almost 20% of LGBTQ+ adults work in service industries which typically hand out part-time hours that don’t necessarily include benefits such as medical or paid time off. The implications of underemployment create economic instability. In terms of health coverage, 17% of LGBTQ+ adults don’t have insurance compared to 12% of their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. The HRC Foundation also reports that 20% of LGBTQ+ adults have not seen a doctor when needed because they couldn’t afford it. Again, these statistics become worse at the intersection of race and gender.

Rates of unemployment are also higher for LGBTQ+ individuals. The unemployment rates are 2x higher than non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. Not only do unemployment and underemployment make it hard for people to live in a home, not alone purchase a house, but it also makes it difficult to afford the necessities of life such as food and medicine.

Housing Discrimination

Having money doesn’t necessarily shield the community from discrimination. LGBTQ+ adults face risks of being denied a lease or a sale of a house. They can also be subjected to higher rent or sale price of a house. Some members of the community also experience harassment and a sense of not belonging to the neighborhood by those who live around them and unwelcomed landlords. There have been case filings in different states for rejection of lease applications due to reasons such as the “uniqueness” of the relationship and suggested it would disrupt the landlord’s “low profile” within the community when it came to a same-sex couple (Smith v. Avanti). In the U.S., LGBTQ+ adults are more likely to report the prevention of moving to or buying an apartment or house.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (2013) confirmed these claims through a study of properties that were sent emails inquiring about one-bedroom apartments. The email had the same language, disclosed that the person inquiring was in a committed relationship, and disclosed the sexual orientation of the two through gender-specific names. Through the study, it was revealed that male and female same-sex couples were less likely to receive favorable responses to the inquiry in comparison to different-sex couples. Discrimination becomes even more prevalent with transgender people and disproportionately for transgender people of color. In another USTS study (2015), 17% of Black transgender women reported being denied a home or an apartment in comparison to 6% of all respondents who reported they were denied because of their gender identity.

The most important aspect of buying a home is being able to finance the purchase through a mortgage. Surprisingly enough, discrimination occurs here as well, contributing to the lower ownership rates of LGBTQ+ adults. With lending data from Fannie Mae researchers from Iowa State University (2019) reported that same-sex borrowers experienced a 3% to 8% lower approval rate than different-sex couples. Researchers at the University of Chicago Law Review (2019) also analyzed 5 million applications, reporting that same-sex male applicants were significantly less likely to have an accepted application than their White heterosexual couple counterparts. Black-male pairs were least likely to be approved.

Mental Health and Well-Being

Housing instability for LGBTQ+ people can start at a very young age. Those who identify differently than their family’s expectations can risk losing their homes. Those who are susceptible to housing instability also incur high rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm. According to the Trevor Project’s research on homelessness and housing stability among LGBTQ+ youth (2022), 81% of youth who reported housing instability and 84% of youth who reported homelessness detail symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is in comparison to 68% of youth who have not experienced housing instability.  The consequences of diminishing mental well-being can affect one’s education and, thus, their employment prospects. Their employment prospects, as we’ve documented, affect the ability to own a home.

The lack of health care and economic instability make it difficult to receive consistent mental health care. Outside of cost, the barriers to mental health care also include a lack of transportation and parental permission. Thirty-three percent of LGBTQ+ youth who experience housing instability had no access to mental health care because they couldn’t get to the location. This is in comparison to 20% of those who do not experience housing instability. Having a stable home makes it easier for all of us to take care of the things that are most important to us, namely our health. The combination of diminished mental health, wage disparity, and housing discrimination can be a dangerous cause of homelessness among LGBTQ+ adults.

Support and Resources

Los Angeles is a city that has wonderful resources for those who may be facing housing instability. Organizations such as  Los Angeles LGBT Center has been providing housing to the community since 1971. Not only do they provide multiple housing programs for youth ages 18-24 experiencing homelessness, but they also provide emergency shelter and rental assistance for up to 24 months (about 2 years). Even with these services, we must still be vigilant and advocate for equitable, anti-discrimination laws. Even with the laws we have currently, it’s very difficult to sniff out discrimination. For instance, a denied application doesn’t always require a reason for its denial. This can be done through increased awareness of the challenges LGBTQ+ individuals face in securing housing with the hopes of fostering greater empathy and support for anti-discrimination measures. By being more aware and invested we all can help ensure that every LGBTQ+ person has safe and affordable housing.