Housing for older LGBT People


Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans* People and Housing in Later Life – Britain’s other Housing Crisis?

Dr Andrew King,  Co-Director of the Centre for Research on Ageing and Gender, University of Surrey describes some initial findings from the SAFE Housing Project, which has been exploring Older LGBT* people’s experiences, concerns and preferences for housing later in life.

We hear an awful lot about Britain’s housing crisis - concerns are expressed about affordable housing, young people’s limited choices and the quality of housing with care available to older people. However, very little, if any of this debate, has considered the housing needs, experiences, concerns and preferences of older LGBT* people. This is despite the fact that even conservative estimates suggest that they are a sizeable minority of the UK’s ageing population. And whilst sharing a common reality with all older people, older LGBT* people will have been strongly and sometimes very negatively affected by the discrimination and stigma associated with sexual and gender minorities in previous eras. Even with the coming of Equalities legislation over the past fifteen years, a range of studies continue to show that many older LGBT* people still experience discrimination and prejudice across a range of services.

There are studies, mostly small scale qualitative ones, that show older LGBT*people have a range of concerns about housing in later life, particularly about staying in their own homes, moving in to specialist housing with or without care and losing access to their social networks of LGBT* friends and family. However, a large scale, UK-wide study exploring these issues hasn’t taken place. The last significant survey of older LGBT* people and their concerns about housing in the UK took place over twenty years ago.

In order to redress this lack of current knowledge, to provide the basis for a national study, as well as some preliminary evidence which might be useful to those in the housing sector, we have just conducted a pilot project, the ‘Safe, Accessible, Friendly and Equal (SAFE) Housing Project’ with the help and assistance of Opening Doors London, Stonewall Housing, Safe Age No Discrimination (SAND) and Age UK Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin.

The project, conducted in London and Shropshire, comprised five focus groups with older LGBT* people and a survey. The latter comprised 31 questions about current housing, future housing options and preferences, their feelings about their local area, about ageing and being part of a wider LGBT* community.

It was clear from the focus groups that participants had real concerns, not to mention some bad experiences, in relation to their housing. Whilst many participants liked where they currently lived, a small but significant number had experienced harassment and victimisation because of their sexuality. Trans* participants spoke of transphobia from neighbours and those in their local area. All participants worried that they would have to conceal who they really are because of where they might live later in life. Indeed, most concerns were around supported housing/housing with care – where they felt they might well experience discrimination from service providers and other residents.

These findings were also clearly evident in the survey results. Currently over 70% of respondents were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ where they were living. But over half (58%) were either ‘quite concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about their future housing needs; whilst a surprising 70% had made no plans or explored ways to address their concerns. In short, the project showed that older LGBT* people do express real concerns about housing later in life, yet these are not currently being addressed.

There is currently no older LGBT* specialist housing available in the UK, as there are in other countries, such as the US, Canada, France and Sweden. Yet when asked about their preferences for housing in later life, respondents to the survey illustrated why an older LGBT* housing complex or retirement home by itself won’t be a sufficient response, although it would signal a real commitment to at least addressing their needs. Older lesbians and bisexual women responding to the survey were more likely to favour gender-specific or LB-specific housing, whereas gay and bisexual men were more likely to favour housing for LGBT* people or mainstream housing. Older trans* people responding to this question had particular concerns about transphobia in LGBT* specific housing and favoured housing for anyone In other words, older LGBT* people want a range of choices and housing types to be available. There was also quite considerable interest in co-operative housing (63% interested) and even intergenerational housing where older and younger people who are not related to one another or in another close relationship live together (53% interested).

As with previous studies the biggest area of concern was in terms of housing with care or other forms of supported housing. When asked about this in the survey, all participants, regardless of gender identity or sexuality, favoured more LGBT*-specialist provision. Yet 56% felt that providers wouldn’t meet their needs. And in the focus groups, which explored people’s concerns in more depth, it was clear that this was based on the experiences of people they knew or what they had heard about through LGBT* media.

Clearly, a generation of LGBT* people are moving into later life with very real concerns about housing. Housing providers and others in the housing and support sector need to address these concerns. And indeed, some are. Anchor Housing, for instance, are currently involved in a Comic Relief funded scheme in conjunction with Middlesex University to develop ways of supporting LGBT* people in care homes. Stonewall Housing and others offer training for frontline staff. Perhaps an LGBT*-friendly kite-mark or charter-mark scheme could be useful – 75% of survey respondents thought it was a good idea if properly administered. But our study raises a range of other possibilities, which we hope to explore in future research. 

We will be holding an event at the University of Surrey on 18thJuly to discuss our research and its implications on policy and practice. Anyone interested in attending should email Andrew King for further information.