Last month, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders ( SAGE ) members convened at the New York SAGE Center to announce its nationwide housing initiative, addressing its national strategy to alleviate LGBT elder housing issues. Leaders from many major SAGE partners, including Equal Rights Center ( ERC ), Enterprise Community and HELP USA were assembled on a panel to articulate the importance of the each component to the housing initiative.
SAGE has identified an LGBT housing crisis, the problem being "economic insecurity because of a lifetime of economic discrimination, housing discrimination, and lack of legal protections at the federal and state levels and where protections do exist, LGBT people are generally unaware of those rights," according to its website.
Michael Adams, executive director with SAGE and moderator, outlined five "keys" to SAGE's housing initiative: building houses, training housing providers, policy advocacy, educating consumers, and expanding services to reiterate points made by the panelists in a succinct list.
Edie Windsor, activist and Supreme Court plaintiff in Windsor v. U.S., started the event as a featured speaker who recognized how much of her advocacy with marriage equality is one of many issues. She emphasized the ways in which marriage equality has highlighted many issues that still exist, especially among LGBT elders facing homelessness.
Following along with the panel Melissa Rothstein with the Equal Rights Center ( ERC ) substantiated Windsor's words with statistics from an ERC study. Last year, the ERC conducted a study of the cultural competency of housing establishments that found that 48 percent of participants experienced at least one form of adverse or differential treatment, and that 12.5 percent experience two or more forms of adverse treatment. Adverse or differential treatment manifested in additional fees or costs, or lack of information about selling points or amenities while their straight counterparts were informed.
During a video presented of two SAGE success stories, Marti Smith of Chicago expressed the importance of Town Hall, Chicago's new LGBT elder housing establishment in Lake View. For Smith, it was most important to live in a place in which she could "be out and living with dignity."
Several panelists highlighted this is a primary concern for many LGBT elders seeking housing: the fear that they may be discriminated against by workers or other tenants compounded by issues elders experience more generally. Kathleen Sullivan of Los Angeles LGBT Center expressed the importance of community experience at Triangle Square. Both Town Hall and Triangle Square are "socially supportive" and ultimately adds to a statistically significant life expectancy, Sullivan said.
Sherrill Wayland keyed in to expressed success stories of the SAGE Metro St. Louis' competency training. [Editor's note: Wayland is executive director of SAGE Metro St. Louis.]
"It cannot be overstated the importance of competency training," said Wayland.
Competency training is at the core of SAGE's housing initiative which will allow willing housing providers to better understand the needs of LGBT elders.
"As [aforementioned] we just can't build enough LGBT-specific housing," iterated Wayland.
So to acknowledge that housing is an issue for many population groups and that "it can never be eradicated," said Cheryl Gladstone, competency training is crucial to allow LGBT elders to reside in all communities and to whichever the call home. [Editor's note: Gladstone is program director of senior housing at Enterprise Community Partners.]
"Education is going to be a critical component to making these projects a success," added David Cleghorn, senior vice president of Real Estate Development, HELP USA.
Cleghorn touched on the attention to services provided by housing communities which would enhance clients' sense of community with on-site services.
To bring the issue full circle, Jennifer Ho ( senior advisor for housing and services at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ) addressed the importance of policy advocacy on the federal and state levels. The SAGE housing initiative aims to strengthen federal anti-discrimination protections for housing to include sexual orientation and gender identity as well as changes to policy enforcement. Initiatives on the state level remain premature in development, but SAGE does intend to work with each state's progression toward meeting its collective goal: to drastically improve LGBT elder housing situation and options.