What can we learn from housing organisations in the USA?
Housing organisations must aim high when it comes to considering equality and diversity, says Stonewall Housing's chief executive Bob Green. He talks us through his recent trip to the USA and explains how getting involved with CIH's '10 by 20' challenge is one way that we can make LGBT communities’ dreams a reality.
The challenges for older LGBT people
We can all agree that these are challenging times for housing providers - but let's not forget that these are also challenging times for the people and communities that they should be serving.
LGBT communities face particular challenges that affect their housing needs as they age. Evidence shows that older LGBT people are statistically more likely to live alone and are less likely to have children or extended family networks they can call on for support. Some are reluctant to ask for help or support from housing providers because of fear of discrimination - therefore they're at greater risk of isolation as they age.
The National LGB&T Partnership recently carried out the largest survey of LGBT people on social care - when asked about residential settings, 33 per cent of respondents said they felt unsafe and just 13 per cent were satisfied with the care they received. When an older LGBT person comes to Stonewall Housing looking for accommodation tailored to their needs, we have to tell them that the nearest schemes are in Europe or the USA.
The challenge for me
In August, as part of the London Housing Foundation's post-graduate certificate in leadership in housing and homelessness, I visited three affordable housing schemes for older LGBT people in Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. Okay, so it wasn’t too much of a challenge but it did involve travelling more than 11,000 miles, crossing eight time zones in one week with only one carry-on bag! I recorded a video diary each day.
The visits were thought-provoking and challenged me to deliver better housing options for older LGBT people in the UK on my return home. The schemes I saw proudly promoted themselves as LGBT-friendly with signs outside, positive images inside and even rainbow windows in one case. When vacancies arose, queues formed around the block because they created a sense of "family" and a "piece of heaven".
The great thing for me to see was that all three cities had dreams to go further, to develop more housing options and services for LGBT communities with the ‘infinite potential of surprise’ while facing similar funding challenges that we face in the UK.
I am delighted that the Big Lottery and Commonweal Housing have agreed to fund our feasibility study to establish if there is demand for such a scheme in the UK and, if so, what it would look like. Stonewall Housing is fortunate to be able to work alongside Freshfields Law Firm and the Homes and Communities Agency, among others, to carry out the study and we would welcome discussions with more partners and investors to make our dream a reality.
The challenges for housing providers
Some housing providers are doing excellent work with their LGBT residents and staff (some examples are included in the CIH guide to ‘Delivering housing services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers’). However, more can be done to improve services on offer to LGBT people and to develop new initiatives for LGBT communities so that people no longer have to travel abroad to access housing developed by and for LGBT people.
Here are my suggestions:
- There needs to be a cultural shift within organisations lead by the board and senior manager. If an organisation is nervous or ignorant of LGBT issues then staff and clients are more likely to be too. Providers should improve LGBT representation, training programmes and improve their policies and procedures. LGBT people will then begin to trust organisations more.
- Housing providers need to know how many LGBT people live and work in their organisation. Data collection should be completed sensitively and be more than a paper exercise: information should be analysed and used to improve services.
- Organisations should set their own objectives and targets, to improve services and deliver new services, which can be scrutinised by boards, staff and residents. It may even open up new business opportunities.
- Housing providers should seek out LGBT organisations to support their plans, co-produce solutions and offer a range of services for their residents and staff, so they can reach their full potential.
The '10 by 20' challenge
I would urge providers to sign up to the ten challenges in the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Presidential Commission on leadership and diversity.
Personally, I would hope that by 2020 more LGBT people felt safe to be ‘out and proud’ where they lived and worked and that there would be at least one scheme for older LGBT people.
Rather than be limited in the face of challenges we face as employers, employees, providers and service users, we can tell our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender staff and residents that the sky is the limit!
For more information, please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Find out about CIH's Presidential Commission on leadership and diversity
- Read up on the 10 by 20 challenge and sign up