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LGBT+ Commission Inquiry Session: Housing

Chaired by Sean Anstee CBE, the second inquiry session of the LGBT+ Commission took place on 14th March. This session focussed on the issues that the LGBT+ community in the UK face with respect to housing and homelessness, bringing together the recommendations of leaders in this field, from civil society, housing providers and local/regional authorities.

This writeup is not intended to be an exhaustive account of all areas covered in the meeting, nor of all the areas that the Commission will focus on regarding LGBT+ housing and homelessness. Instead, this paper seeks to highlight key areas of consensus discussed by our panel, some of the problems in these areas, and the recommendations that were suggested. If desired, the full recording of the session can be found here.

The first half of the session focused on LGBT+ homelessness. A write-up of this discussion can be found here. second half of this inquiry session of the LGBT+ Commission focused on Housing for LGBT+ people, with a particular focus on supported living for older LGBT+ people. The panel for this session included:

  • Anna Kear (CEO, Tonic Living)
  • Bob Green OBE (Housing Consultant, LGBT Foundation)
  • Cllr Siriol Hugh-Jones (Joint Chair, Brighton and Hove City Council Housing Committee)

LGBT+ Affirmative/inclusive Supported Living

In the second half of the Commission’s inquiry session, a key focus was on the importance of LGBT+ affirmative and/or inclusive supported living options. This marks a new and emerging area of provision and policy consideration. Current generations of older LGBT+ people (defined as those aged 55 and over) are some of the first that have been ‘out’ for a significant period of their lives and have, due to advancements in treatments for HIV/AIDS, been able to live full and healthy lives, where previous generations have not.

Tonic Housing is a community-led not for profit housing association, which aims to address the issues of loneliness and isolation faced by older LGBT+ people. In response to the total lack of provision in this area, they established Tonic@Bankhouse, the first LGBT+ affirmative supported living scheme. The scheme opened in September 2021 in association with One Housing with 19 apartments in an extra care scheme. The scheme is fully wheelchair accessible with 24/7 on site staff. 

However, as the first of its kind. Tonic@Bankhouse exists against a backdrop of very limited provision for older LGBT+ people:

“The result of that lack of provision is that many older LGBT+ people have felt that they’ve had to go back into the closet in order to get that support the need in later life.” – Anna Kear

The evidence base behind Tonic@Bankhouse shows that older LGBT+ people are more likely to suffer worse health outcomes than the wider population and are also less likely to have family support networks, either due to ostracization, or, for some of the older generation, having been of parenting age when it was not legal or LGBT+ people to have families. The result is that many older LGBT+ people do not have families who can support them and help them navigate the care system to get them the support they need in later life.

To develop a strong evidence base of need, Tonic worked with Stonewall and Opening Doors London to conduct a community-led survey of 600 older LGBT+ Londoners. From the survey they found that 56% of respondents wanted LGBT+ specific provision, and 23% wanted LGBT+ accredited provision. However, perhaps most starkly:

“Only 1% of respondents said that they were prepared to go into a general retirement scheme… the mainstream may think the services are there, but older LGBT+ people do not think those services are for them.” – Anna Kear

While mainstream services may force LGBT+ people back into the closet, or lead to discrimination from staff or other residents, LGBT+ affirmative schemes such as Tonic@Bankhouse provide a space wherein older LGBT+ people can live comfortably:

“What we understand, from working in this area is that… [older LGBT+ people] want to be in a place where you don’t have to come out every time you have a conversation, you don’t have to explain why you haven’t got grandchildren.” – Anna Kear

A similar series of concerns is driving the development of an LGBT+ majority extra care scheme in Manchester. Driven by a community steering group of older LGBT+ people and people from the area surrounding the development, they are hoping to open in 2025:

“Unfortunately, for a lot of people I’ve spoken to, it couldn’t come soon enough. I’ve spoken to people, one of them is going spare with loneliness at the moment, especially after the pandemic. And another one… said that he’s dealing with abuse from neighbours, and all he can do until the scheme opens is soldier on where he’s living at the moment.” – Bob Green OBE

 As LGBT Foundation conducted their own research in Manchester to discover the level of need for such a scheme, they also found that such a scheme needed to be affordable given the often-ignored LGBT+ pay gap. In their research, they found that 74% of LGBT+ people were unsure about how they would pay for their future care, a number that rose to 93% for trans people:

“There’s a dire financial position for a lot of LGBT+ people, especially trans people, non-binary people, disabled people. There are some LGBT+ people who are flushed with the ‘pink pound’ as they call it, but there are lots of us living I poverty, with a lot of anxiety about the future. How do people pay for their future care?” – Bob Green OBE

As well as developing the LGBT+ majority extra care scheme, Manchester City Council and LGBT Foundation will be designing quality marks for housing and care staff that will be used for other extra care schemes across greater Manchester.

A clear area of concern for both projects was ensuring that any such scheme would be truly inclusive and/or affirmative, rather than such projects acting as a box-ticking exercise. It was a point of consensus between the panellists that co-production was at the heart of inclusivity. In both the cases of Tonic@Bankhouse and the Manchester scheme, this meant having community steering groups in place from the very beginnings of project development:

“For it to be inclusive, and to be truly coproduced, it can’t be enforced upon us and it can’t be somebody in an office saying, ‘this is what LGBT+ communities can have’. It’s got to come from the communities and give us control.” – Bob Green OBE

One of the most important reasons for such co-production is that it allows projects to be informed by the diverse range of needs of the LGBT+ community. This has certainly been the case for the extra care development in Manchester. One of the key areas this has manifested is between one part of the community who are more secretive and may not have come out yet and are perhaps even anxious about the scheme being public, and another who are more open about their LGBT+ identity and want the scheme to be more openly celebratory of this identity. Further to this, in terms of the specifications and facilities of the scheme, there are diverse interests and needs to account for:

“In the survey, some LGBT+ people weren’t overly keen with community spaces in the project, but actually trans people and people of colour were overwhelmingly keen to have a community space in the accommodation. So we need to hear all of our voices, not just white gay cis males.” – Bob Green OBE

On this theme there emerged several recommendations. These included:

  1. An LGBT+ housing strategy in every city and nationally. The strategy should consider the diverse needs of the LGBT+ community including ethnic minorities, disabled people, refugees and asylum seekers.
  2. Ensure that social housing is meeting the needs of LGBT+ people. The social housing regulator is currently consulting around tenant satisfaction, and we must ensure that satisfaction for LGBT+ residents is being included in this guidance and being addressed.
  3. For the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to reintroduce a new community housing fund so more LGBT+ groups can design their own housing, plans and solutions across the country, and beyond just Manchester and London.

Working with Local Authorities

Though there was a clear consensus on the need for community-led approaches to LGBT+ housing, such groups will inevitably find themselves working with local authorities in the process, and a key focus of the panel was the challenges in doing so, and how some of these could be overcome.

As is the case with homelessness services detailed above, one of the key issues is having the data to evidence need at a local level and subsequently commission services. It was this issue that led Tonic and LGBT Foundation respectively to carry out surveys in London and Manchester to develop this evidence base. However, this is not often possible for a lot of civil society organisations whose resources will be stretched as it is.

“It’s difficult to understand the level of need, so it’s clear that housing providers need to work with members of the LGBT+ community to engage them and develop the trust necessary for them to be open about their sexual orientation and gender identity.” – Cllr Siriol Hugh-Jones

Indeed, it is a significant risk for LGBT+ civil society organisations with limited resources to devote resources to such research without support from housing providers and/or local authorities, however at the same time, local authorities will need more than anecdotal evidence to create a clear value for money case. Here, it was suggested that local authority support for such research on the part groups seeking to develop such projects could be helpful:

“Maybe there’s scope for some sort of co-production between authorities and those doing the community research, so that the researchers know from the outset that they’re producing the data that local authorities need.” – Cllr Siriol Hugh-Jones

Further to this, services tailored to LGBT+ groups face even greater challenges as local authority budgets have been cut dramatically over recent years, which means that funding community-targeted programmes will often be challenging:

“The other problem of course is just the decimation of local authority funding, which means that, often we can’t do anything beyond our statutory services.” – Cllr Siriol Hugh-Jones

In the face of such challenges, panellists agreed that LGBT+ groups hoping to develop such schemes would need to be creative in the way that they approached their work, often fitting into existent local authority funding pots or development plans where possible.

“It is quite a challenging time for local authorities financially but looking at Manchester and their approach to the extra care strategy, you can be clever with what you’ve got. We knew they had an extra care strategy. That wasn’t our first choice… we wanted community housing, but that’s how the jigsaw fitted.” – Bob Green OBE

Cllr Siriol Hugh-Jones noted that Brighton and Hove City Council had in the past done some pioneering work in this area, working with akt and Switchboard to develop its LGBT+ strategy and housing strategy (from 2009-2014 and in 2015 respectively), which incorporated three strategic objectives:

  1. To plan and provide accessible, welcoming and safe housing and support services that are responsive to the needs of LGBT+ people and promote their health and wellbeing. Notably this included improving housing choice, support and independence for LGBT+ people with mental health or substance misuse needs, young LGBT+ people, older LGBT+ people and people with multiple disadvantages.
  2. Plan and provide housing and support services that contribute to LGBT+ community safety and challenge harassment, discrimination and hate crime.
  3. Plan and provide housing and support services in consultation with the LGBT+ community.

However, it remains the case that, as was noted across both halves of the session, administrations come and go in local authorities, and different administrations will have varying levels of political will to act on LGBT+ issues. When local authorities are supportive of such programmes of work therefore, it was noted that embedding this in services can help to ensure that changes of administration do not completely derail the important work that is being done:

“I talked a little bit earlier about the problem of champions moving on or there being a change of administration, but I think if you do enough to embed good practice among frontline officers, then that goes quite a long way to embedding some sort of consistency of approach.” – Cllr Siriol Hugh-Jones

Key Recommendations from the Panel:

  1. Develop a clear LBGT+ Housing Strategy: Such a strategy should lay out guidance and/or duties for local authorities, social housing regulators, housing associations and private landlords on how to consider the needs of LGBT+ tenants and residents. Such a strategy should include older LGBT+ people in supported living facilities as well as younger members of the LGBT+ community and be developed in consultation with the LGBT+ community. This may involve the re-launching of the Community Housing Fund to allow community-led projects to flourish across the UK, beyond solely urban centres.
  2. Co-production to ensure inclusive design: Developing truly inclusive accommodation will require a concertedly co-productive approach to ensure that the diverse needs of the LGBT+ community are met. This remains the case for supported living arrangements that are not LGBT+ affirmative. It is incumbent upon supported living providers to meet the needs of their residents, a growing number of which will be LGBT+, who may be estranged from their families, be living with HIV, or feel a greater sense of isolation. Designing services in consultation with such groups is a key step in ensuring these needs are considered.

Tom Copley, Deputy Mayor of London on LGBT+ Housing

On our most recent episode of Political Sandbox, Deputy Mayor of London for Housing and Residential Development spoke with Sean Anstee CBE on the issues of LGBT+ housing and homelessness, and the work of the GLA with Tonic Housing to open the UK’s first LGBT+ affirmative extra care scheme.

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