Researchers hope for new policies on housing for LGBTQ seniors
Recommendations from Dalhousie researchers include better data gathering, anti-discrimination training
Researchers at Dalhousie University who are gathering information on housing for LGBTQ seniors are hoping their work may help inform the Nova Scotia government's discussion on affordable housing — and that it will eventually help shape national policy too.
Jacqueline Gahagan is the lead investigator of a project that examined international policies and gathered feedback from people across Canada.
"The thread in all of that is really about ongoing stigma and discrimination that the older LGBTQ folks are facing. And this is particularly important in the Canadian context, where we see, again, strong human-rights legislation, but perhaps a lack of enforcement of regulation in the housing sector," she said.
Gahagan said participants were worried about moving to buildings or long-term care homes where they might face harassment.
"We've heard from participants, for example, an older HIV-positive gay man saying, 'What's going to happen when I can no longer live in my own home?'"
Discrimination and affordability
For many, housing affordability is an important element of this worry.
"I believe that the province is trying to make strides in understanding issues of affordability, but we also need to understand the sort of precursors to that," Gahagan said.
"So what are the issues of individuals who are marginalized, discriminated against and receive stigma, harassment or violence in housing? How are we actually understanding that sort of intersection between so-called vulnerable populations and affordability?"
The researchers found there are data gaps in information about older LGBTQ populations. For example, the Canadian census only began to collect data on same-sex couples in 2001.
They suggest the federal government should consider moves such as using the 2021 Census to collect data on LGBTQ housing needs, and making sure that older citizens are included in that data collection.
At a provincial level, some of their suggestions include an independent advocate for LGBTQ seniors' housing, and providing clear examples of what constitutes discrimination in housing.
Gahagan's co-investigator is Ren Thomas, who studies affordable housing.
"We've been hearing some alarming stories about safety for tenants, for rental tenants, that there are some really unsafe conditions in units. So there are unique sub-populations that are facing unique challenges that we need to listen to," she said.
Thomas said there are a number of issues that are making affordable housing difficult in this province.
"We do have some issues around tenant protection, and that could include issues like tenant safety. We also know that we are losing some affordable units. So protecting those units from becoming un-affordable is also a challenge," she said.
Thomas is also a co-chair of the province's Affordable Housing Commission, which will deliver recommendations to the provincial government in May. She said the commission, which is holding its first all-member meeting this week, will have the ability to make recommendations that are not restricted to a narrow view of housing.
An example of the recommendations Thomas and Gahagan made about safer housing for LGBTQ seniors is that there should be anti-discrimination training for staff and residents in long-term care facilities.
Thomas explained that there are representatives on the commission from departments such as Justice and Health, and the affordable housing commission could interpret its mandate in a similar broad way.
"It's not out of the realm of possibility that we could make a recommendation like that," she said.
In the meantime, the researchers have sent three policy briefs detailing the findings about housing for LGBTQ seniors to policy makers like the provincial housing minister, along with federal and municipal officials.