LGBTQ renters forced to make impossible decisions during the eviction crisis

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'Getting misgendered, being housed in the wrong place, being turned away because they're wearing the wrong clothes ... those sorts of things are particular challenges for this group.'

On Aug. 26, the Supreme Court released a decision that killed the Biden administration's eviction moratorium. In its opinion, the majority said Congress would have to act in order to keep the moratorium going.

The decision leaves members of the LGBTQ community particularly vulnerable. The social stigma many LGBTQ people must live with, including in their own families, makes it hard for them to seek financial support or housing from them as well, according to experts.

Research and surveys have shown that LGBTQ people face housing insecurity and discrimination, which puts them at particular risk of eviction and homelessness. According to the Williams Institute, a think tank out of the University of California, Los Angeles, 41% of LGBTQ people rent their homes compared to 25% of non-LGBTQ people. Nearly half of LGBTQ people who owe their landlord rent are worried about being evicted in the next two months and 30% of LGBTQ people of color were not caught up on rent.

A 2020 survey from the Center for American Progress found that 20% of LGBTQ respondents said they experienced discrimination in an apartment community. More than four in 10 LGBTQ people said that locating another homeless shelter or adoption agency would be difficult if not impossible if they were denied service.

"Socioeconomically, across the country, LGBTQ people are less likely to have higher incomes and are more likely to be living in poverty," said Dylan Waguespack, director of public policy and external affairs at True Colors United, an organization focused on youth homelessness. "They're more likely to have experienced homelessness before and have experienced an eviction before, and we know that those can be big risk factors in guessing whether someone might have that experience again."

Sam Williamson works at the Homeless Persons Representation Project as a Skadden Fellow and serves LGBTQ youth at risk of or experiencing homelessness in the city of Baltimore and Baltimore County. Williamson provides free legal services, including on housing issues.

"It was traumatic for folks who lost the moratorium eviction protections because people went from feeling like there was something standing between them and homelessness to feeling like there was no protection and that's a really hard change for folks to have to deal with," Williamson, who uses they/them pronouns, said.

"I've had, for example, a client who's had to make the choice between 'Do I call up my mom, who is transphobic, or do I go live on the street,' deciding I would rather live on the street than go home to her," they said.

Williamson said that some clients have also said they wouldn't go to a shelter, telling Williamson, "Shelter is death."

"Getting misgendered, being housed in the wrong place, being turned away because they're wearing the wrong clothes, being called a f----- [pejorative word for gay people], those sorts of things are particular challenges for this group," they said.

Experts on housing rights, homelessness, and anti-LGBTQ discrimination say that there are things that federal, state, and local governments can do to address the eviction crisis and help any of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and/or nonbinary people affected by it.

Waguespack said one of the most important things Congress could do is extend the eviction moratorium. He added that decision-makers on Capitol Hill shouldn't allow city and state entities' slow distribution of rental assistance to stop them from directing resources to people who need help.

"We know that there is a huge issue with state and local entities not getting those dollars out the door fast enough," Waguespack said added. "But we also know there aren't enough dollars. Even once those efficiency problems are solved, we're still going to need more resources to effectively tackle the housing crisis that the country is experiencing right now."

According to a survey by the Center for American Progress, which used data from 2017, LGBTQ people and their families used public housing assistance at more than double the rate of non-LGBTQ people.

Another threat to housing security is landlords' refusal of housing vouchers as payment, which should also be addressed, he said. And states and cities can and should issue their own eviction moratoriums, he added.

Antonia Fasanelli, executive director for the National Homelessness Law Center, said eviction courts need to provide tenants an opportunity to be heard. The current process is usually brief and favors landlords. It needs to be significantly changed in many states, such as ensuring tenants have legal representation, to make sure many LGBTQ tenants and others don't lose their housing, she said.

"By and large, eviction courts are not places where tenants are able to raise even simple defenses, let alone more significant defenses, like discrimination in housing," she said. If a landlord wants to force a tenant out, regardless of whether they could resolve the issue and receive payment, the tenant often loses.

"There is a very little opportunity for the tenant to then raise any additional defenses, like for instance, if the tenant said, 'Well the reason the landlord wants me out is because they are discriminating against me because of my LGBTQ status,'" Fasanelli said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.