It wasn’t that long ago that housing specifically for the LGBT community was, at best, unthinkable, and at worst, very dangerous. There might have been some instances when apartment owners turned a blind eye and rented to “spinsters” or “confirmed bachelors,” but larger groups of LGBT members living together could be turned on in an instant by authorities or by the community.
One of the great cruelties of these prejudices is that a lifetime of oppression didn’t ease with old age. In fact, it got worse, overlapping insults and injuries and often ending with housing problems for older adults. This problem has been acute even in the progressive Bay Area, which has seen an enormous spike in housing prices, making it even harder for older LGBT members to live in peace and dignity.
That’s where Openhouse comes in. A community dedicated to helping LGBT older adults find housing, support, and love, Openhouse was developed to overcome years of prejudice and economic violence. By creating low-income LGBT housing and providing an array of services, Openhouse helps adults navigate financial aid, and maybe most importantly, helps to reduce isolation, something that can plague all seniors.
Housing, in many ways, is life. Openhouse helps to provide a roof. It gives shelter from the storms of life and a warm place to be yourself, to love, and to rest.
The Problems of Housing for LGBT Older Adults
In many ways, the housing market for older LGBT adults in the Bay Area is a perfect storm. There are many reasons why it is challenging to find housing. And this isn’t a small problem. As Openhouse estimates, “25,000 LGBT seniors age 55 and over live in San Francisco, and about 60,000 live in the Bay Area. Over the next 10 years, as the baby boomer generation ages, that number is expected to increase by 40%.” And even if it was only a few people, each of those lives has value and shouldn’t be thrown to the winds.
There are many reasons why housing can be so difficult. These directly involve prejudice, a rolling avalanche of unfairness that makes each step in life more difficult. Some of these reasons include:
- Lack of a family structure: Many gay, lesbian, bi, and transgendered adults were kicked out of their homes and disinherited. They might not have had the education or the support they needed starting out, which led to a lifetime of difficulties.
- Trouble marrying: Until the last decade, the idea of gay marriage was unthinkable. That meant gay and lesbian couples couldn’t take advantage of tax or investment breaks given to married couples, no matter how committed they were. This meant less income.
- An inability to buy: For older LGBT adults, there was a struggle to find housing when they were younger. Being “different” made it harder to buy homes, which meant losing an investment and years of equity.
- Difficulty finding work: Hide who you were or don’t get hired. That was the grim choice many people faced, having to live in fear of getting caught, or living on the margins of society. Either way, it bred economic insecurity.
- No children as support in old age: As recent as gay marriage is, same-sex adoption is even more recent and controversial. That means many older LGBT adults lack the support system that comes with having kids they can live with, or who can act as caregivers, or help out financially. All of this can be a burden.
- San Francisco housing: One of the cruelest ironies is that the city that, historically, has been one of the few places where LGBT members can live in the open is also the one that makes it hardest for anyone to afford, especially those that have had a lifetime of economic opportunities denied to them. Nested calculated San Francisco has the highest apartment pricing in the world. The area-wide crisis hits everyone (well, not the very rich), and it hits the most vulnerable the hardest.
So there is clearly a need to fill the gaps that older LGBT adults are falling into. Openhouse is doing just that.
Working to Solve the Housing Crisis
Openhouse has been building affordable housing for LGBT seniors in San Francisco as a haven, a community, and a home. It is a place where people feel welcome and entirely themselves, many for the first time in their lives.
That’s not all Openhouse does. It also empowers older adults to take ownership of their new digs, to create a life and to keep exploring. For many, this is the first time they feel comfortable, not gnawed at by the twin cruelties of economic uncertainty and buffeting prejudice. This means the ability to really take advantage of life and to not let old age be a hindrance.
Having a community means less isolation, which is key. LGBT suicide attempt and success rates are twice as high as the national average (and considerably higher when isolated for transgendered youth and adults) and are higher for older adults in general. The combination can be lethal, especially when combined with isolation.
But this is lessened when there is a community. Lives are brightened. You can realize that you aren’t alone. You are part of a vibrant and excited community, often battered by life, but not broken. Stronger because of it. Living together. Falling in love. Being yourself. Being part of the world. Being ready to keep exploring.
Learn more about Openhouse and how you can help.
At Institute on Aging, we believe that all older adults deserve to live in peace, in dignity, and with the chance to be fully themselves. No voices should be silenced due to orientation or age. Learn more about or programs and services today.