Lesbian, gay and bisexual seniors are more likely to face discrimination when seeking housing than their heterosexual peers, according to a report released today by the Equal Rights Center.
The report focused on 10 states — including Pennsylvania — and found that LGB seniors were often presented with higher rental prices, more burdensome application requirements, less availability and fewer amenities.
The study worked like this: Testers (who were all at least 50 years old) posed as seniors in their 60s or 70s and made phone calls seeking housing at age-restricted and mostly independent living facilities. Each facility was contacted by a LGB tester and heterosexual tester who said they lived as independent renters with their spouse, but were looking to move to a senior living community. The testers then reported what the facilities told them about fees, prices and unit availability, among other factors.
The report did not look at transgender seniors, but acknowledged that discrimination against that group is "also a widespread and serious problem."
The study conducted 200 total tests across 10 states, which varied in terms of legal protections offered to LGBT people. Overall, 48 percent of the LGB testers experienced "at least one type of adverse, differential treatment"; 12.5 percent experienced more than one form of adverse treatment.
"The rates are very disturbing,” says Don Kahl, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Equal Rights Center. "Not only does that violate civil-rights laws in many instances, [but] you can see how wrong it is on a moral basis as well."
According to the report, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers some indirect protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. But each state governs whether LGBT people are counted as a protected class with respect to discrimination in private facilities.
In Pennsylvania, which doesn't offer statewide protection from discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation, 40 percent of LGB testers experienced some form of adverse treatment. Ten percent experienced more than one form of adverse treatment.
In two of the 20 tests conducted in Pennsylvania, the LGB tester was offered fewer units. In three tests, the LGB tester was informed of deposits or fees — of up to $4,500 — not required from the heterosexual tester.
And while those numbers aren't among the highest of the 10 states included the report, over 75 percent of the Pennsylvania tests occurred in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Erie — all of which have local laws that are supposed to protect LGB seniors from housing discrimination. That makes "these high rates of [adverse] treatment even more egregious," according to the report.
Kahl acknowledges that because there were only 20 tests in each state, it's difficult to draw "definitive conclusions" about the effect of state law on housing discrimination, but he says it is generally true that states without such laws tended have higher rates of adverse treatment.
That holds true in states like Arizona and Georgia, which have no state housing protections for LGBT individuals and whose rates of adverse treatment of 80 and 70 percent respectively — the highest rates in the study. But it's not an air-tight argument.
In New Jersey, which does prohibit housing discrimination, 40 percent of testers experienced adverse treatment, tied with Pennsylvania.
It appears that senior housing accommodations will become an increasingly important issue in the wider LGBT rights movement. While estimates vary, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, there are 3 million LGBT seniors today, a number which is expected to double by 2030.
To curb future discrimination, the report recommends enacting non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity, enforcing existing laws and education campaigns designed to inform seniors about what their rights are. It also stresses the need to fill the "data void" on discrimination on LGB seniors and calls on housing providers to adopt anti-discrimination policies.
"They’ve been subjected to growing up in a time when the LGBT community had virtually no protection," Kahl says. "Now that things are changing in a very very positive way, more of those individuals are coming out and living in the open ... There is definitely a need for housing options in this community."