Injustice at Every Turn — Part V: Housing

Scarlet Letter

Injustice at Every Turn (pdf) is a 122-page report of data gathered in 2008 by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality concerning quality of life issues for transgender people living in this country.

Housing insecurity for transgender and gender non-conforming people is a crisis. Respondents reported direct discrimination by housing providers and negative housing impacts of discrimination in other critical areas of life such as employment, health care and criminal justice. Accordingly, respondents were forced to employ various strategies to secure places to live.

Previous “turns” have covered the basic data about who transpeople living in America are in Who we are — by the numbers, Part I: Education, Part II: Employment, Part III: Health Care and Part IV — Family.

Still to come are the analysis of the data on public accommodations, identification documents and police and incarceration.

Little Boxes

From our point of view, Malvina Reynolds’ song, displayed to the right, is a testament to cisgender privilege.  Many of us don’t have the privilege of having a stable place to live.I wrote about homelessness previously in Homeless for the Holidays.  This piece is a more in depth look at the issue.

The basic data are as follows.  At the time of the survey, which was in late 2008, when the economy was fractionally better, the respondents reported:

    32.0% own a house, apartment or condo
    42.0% rent a house, apartment or condo
    8.0% live in a house, apartment or a condo paid for by a partner or spouse
    4.0% are living with friends or family temporarily
    7.0% are living with parents or family they grew up with
    4.0% reside in college or university housing
    1.7% are homeless or living in a shelter
    0.5% are living in a group home or in foster care
    0.1% are living in a nursing or adult care facility

I’m homeless, sleeping in makeshift housing under a bridge.

The homeless rate is nearly double the rate for the entire US population, as estimated by the National Coalition for the Homeless.  Most vulnerable to being homeless are African American respondents (13%), American Indians (8%), the unemployed (7%), those in the underground economy (7%) and those without a high school diploma (8%).

I am now being evicted from the garage I have been living in the last several months, and in parting fashion, this afternoon I was informed that I have been denied access to renting a two-decade-old mobile home, the only place I could find with my limited income.

Those respondents who reported that they were currently temporarily living with family or friends were more likely to be younger, American Indian (9%), black (8%) or Latino/a (7%).  Although not currently (as of the time of the 2008 data gathering) homeless, their temporary status indicated substantial housing insecurity.

Black respondents (5%) were the most likely to be living in group homes or foster care.

I fear growing old as I feel I would be treated poorly if I ever ended up in an elder care home.

Asian respondents (16%) were most likely to be living with parents or family members they grew up with, as were those with no HS diploma (30%) and those with only a high school diploma (19%).

Those having a partner or spouse who pays for housing were more likely to be Latino/a (14% of Latino/a respondents), unemployed (18%), or out of the workforce entirely (10%).

Transmen were more likely to be renters (52%) than transwomen (40%).

The 32% who own their place of residence is less than half the rate of the population of the country (67.4%).  People of color (blacks (14%), Latino/a (17%), Asian (21%), American Indian (24%)) were less likely to be owners than whites (37%) and transwomen (36%) were more likely to be owners than transmen (20%).

Even those in the highest income categories reported home ownership at 62%, which is less than the national average.

40% of respondents moved into a less expensive home or apartment due to bias.  This was highest among American Indian (56%), black (52%) and Latino/a respondents (51%).  Transwomen were more likely to have experienced this (50%) than transmen (34%).

19% of respondents reported having become homeless due to discrimination or family rejection. This rate is 2.5 times the national average lifetime rate for the general populace (7.4%).  Age of transition was inversely related to the experience of homelessness at some point.

41% of black respondents reported becoming homeless, as did 33% of American Indian and 29% of Latino/a respondents.

11% of respondents reported having been evicted because of gender identity or non-conformity.  This was highest among black respondents (37%), those with no high school diploma (33%), American Indians (30%), and those making less than $10K per year (26%).

MTFs reported eviction at a rate of 16%, which was twice the rate for FTMs.

19% of respondents reported being denied a home or apartment due to their gender variance.  This was an unconscionable 47% for American Indian respondents and 38% for black participants in the survey.

25% of respondents reported having to move back in with family or friends because of their gender variance.  This was highest for American Indian (51%) and black respondents (47%).

26% of respondents reported having to find different, shifting places to sleep for short periods, such as a friend’s couch or a relative’s garage.  The rate was 48% among black respondents, 45% for American Indians, and 49% for those who had lost a job due to bias.

12% of respondents reported having had sex with people in order to secure a place to stay.  For blacks, this rate was 36%.  For transwomen, this rate was 15%, while for transmen it was 8%.

14% of respondents reported having to use home equity to pay for living expenses.

Of the 19% of respondents who reported homelessness, 25% reported trying to access a homeless shelter at the time.

Their reports of attempting to access shelter describe a system in which abuses against transgender and gender non-conforming people are commonplace. These include denial of access, ejection when transgender status was disclosed, harassment by staff and residents, assault and forced presentation in the wrong gender. Nearly half of all respondents who accessed a shelter (47%) left due to poor treatment.

29% of those who attempted to access a homeless shelter were denied access altogether because of their gender identity or expression.  The rates for Latino/as was 45%, for those with no high school diploma was (44%) and for Blacks was 40%.  Transwomen were denied at a rate of 34%, compared to transmen at 20%.

An additional 25% of respondents who attempted access a homeless shelter were evicted after their gender identity was discovered…and there were the 47% who left due to poor treatment.  16% reported experiencing all three of those outcomes (outright denial, eviction, and poor treatment).

Of those who did receive access to a homeless shelter, a shocking 55% reported being harassed by residents or members of the staff.  Latino/as suffered this at the highest levels (63%), while blacks were close behind (61%).  Even whites were harassed at a rate of 51%.  60% of MTFs suffered harassment as well as 51% of FTMs.

One quarter of respondents who accessed a homeless shelter were physically assaulted by another resident or a staff member, with American Indians (47%) reporting the highest rate.  MTFs were assaulted at a rate of 29% and FTMS at a rate of 15%.

22% of respondents who accessed a homeless shelter were sexually assaulted.  50% of American Indians in this category were sexually assaulted as well as 33% of black respondents and 31% of Latino/as.  26% of MTFs and 15% of FTMs who accessed a homeless shelter reported sexual assault.

So much for calling them “shelters” or part of the”safety” net.

42% of those accessing a shelter were forced to live as the wrong gender in order to stay…which of course goes a far distance toward explaining the physical and sexual assault.  Altering their appearance could include cutting their hair, removing make-up, and wearing gender inappropriate clothes.  Even 35% of those who had surgically transitioned were subjected to this identity destruction.

Is housing important?  You decide:

    34% of those who experienced homelessness became incarcerated, as opposed to only 13% of those who did not become homeless.

    47% of those who became homeless turned to the underground economy for income, as opposed to only 13% of those who did not become homeless.

    Related to the previous item, 33% of those who experienced homelessness turned to sex work for income, as opposed to only 8% of those who did not become homeless.

    66% of those who experienced homelessness reported being physically attacked and 33% reported being sexually attacked.

    The HIV rate for those who experienced homelessness was 7.12%, as opposed to 1.97% of those who had not.

    69% of those who experienced homelessness attempted suicide, as opposed to 38% who had no such experience.

But still, we tend to be resilient:

I experienced a lot of discrimination during my time of being homeless, in group homes, shelters, and transitional living houses. Additionally, I was been kicked out of several colleges, but I never gave up. For the last 6 years, I have used my past experiences, as a transgender person of color, to improve best practices for youth in systems, get more services for them, and help youth become assertive. I am on the local government-run HIV prevention planning council. I continue to struggle to find a job that pays enough, but I always have a positive attitude and that has gotten me far.

  • Stronger laws are needed to address housing discrimination and insecurity.
    • Congress should amend the Fair Housing Act to include transgender and gender non-conforming people in its protections and pass employment protections so that they can better afford to provide shelter for themselves.
    • State legislatures and local governments should pass laws prohibiting both housing discrimination and employment discrimination based on gender identity/expression, so that transgender and gender non-conforming people are better able to provide shelter for themselves and have recourse when they experience discrimination.
  • Government agencies should fully enforce housing discrimination laws, including already existing protections based on race and gender as well as gender identity/expression.
    • Free trainings on how to comply with the law should be developed and made widely available for housing providers and real estate professionals.
    • Pair testing and other ways to detect discrimination should be regularly used to ensure that housing non-discrimination laws are being followed and corrective actions should be taken when non-compliance is found.
    • Individual complaints should be investigated thoroughly and housing providers who discriminate should face harsh penalties.
  • Shelters should be made accessible and safe for all transgender and gender non-conforming people.
    • Shelters should have clear policies on housing transgender residents, ensuring that they are housed according to their gender identity.
    • Gender non-conforming expression and presentation should not be prohibited in order to gain access to shelters.
    • Policies should be developed to minimize the risk of violence directed at transgender and gender non-conforming residents by other residents.
    • Shelter staff should be fully trained on these policies as well as how to respectfully serve transgender and gender non- conforming residents. Staff members who violate policy or serve residents disrespectfully should be disciplined or dismissed.
    • Shelter staff who physically or sexually assault residents should be terminated and reported to law enforcement authorities for investigation.
    • Group homes should have policies that ensure transgender and gender non-conforming residents are respected and safe from harm.
    • Assisted care facilities should have policies of respect for residents’ gender identity/expression and house them accordingly.
    • Foster care systems should ensure that before placing a transgender or gender non-conforming child in a home that the foster family is accepting and supportive of the child’s gender identity/expression.
    • Colleges and universities should develop policies to ensure that transgender and gender non-conforming students are housed according to their gender identity and that there are gender-neutral options available.
  • State and local support programs should be developed that holistically approach and resolve the various challenges and barriers that transgender and gender non-conforming people need addressed in order to house and support themselves. This includes assistance in such things as: earning a G.E.D., work training, finding a job, transitional housing, health care, updating ID documents, legal services, counseling, and/or assistance with applying for benefits.

These are worthy goals, but I shan’t hold my breath.  The truth is that the powers that be do not care.


Skip to comment form

    • Robyn on February 19, 2011 at 00:09

    Never could afford to even think about owning a place to live.  That’s part of the deal that came with being a teacher.

    When I transitioned, I was renting a house which was situated directly between the First Baptist Church (which was the largest church in town) and Central Baptist College, which was a two-year “college” with the purpose of educating potential preachers.

    I moved…first in with some friends and then into a cheap apartment near the university I worked at…and too near the frat houses.

    That’s where I was living when I left to have my surgery.  I recovered at a friend’s house in Bloomington, IN and then returned to the same cheap apartment in Arkansas.

    Eventually, I took a leave of absence from my job and tried to move to Seattle, where I first stayed with friends before finding a place to stay in the northern part of town.  But I couldn’t find a job and eventually started to go broke.  When I returned to Arkansas, a friend let me sleep on her couch for the rest of the semester and the beginning of the next one.  When income started arriving again, I rented a two-bedroom house.  That’s where I lived for the rest of my years in Arkansas.

    We now rent an apartment in West Orange.  Debbie shares ownership with her twin brother of a condo in Los Angeles, which they rent out, and someday we may retire and live in it…provided we can raise enough money to buy out her brother, I suppose.

  1. Great diary. I tried to rec & tip over at the Orange place but my connection keeps timing out.  

  2. How unfortunate that cis LGB people constitute one of the biggest obstacles to transgender liberation (cough–HRC–cough).

    Makes me ashamed to be a cis queer.

    Excellent post with a wealth of info.  Thanks!

    • plf515 on February 19, 2011 at 15:26

    Nice to be following you again, Robyn.

    • plf515 on February 19, 2011 at 15:26

    Nice to be following you again, Robyn.

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