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Tuesday 13 October 2015

Comment: In Whose House?

Posted in: Comment
By Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 9th July 2014

One of the chief issues of the current New Zealand general election is the vexed question of housing policy and affordability. How does this affect us?

Define "us" in this context. Let's put it another way. Do LGBTI homebuyers or rental tenants with or without children have different needs, given that 'parent tracking' may mean different occupational and employment histories? Will trans women and trans men have different residential ownership patterns compared to lesbians and gay men, given that accommodation discrimination is still theoretically and ambiguously legal in the case of New Zealand's transgender communities? How does class and ethnicity complicate this picture? Are they more relevant than sexual orientation when it comes to evaluating housing policy? On the other hand, does gender identity discrimination worsen other forms of existing social inequalities? What about homelessness?

I first tackled this question before the last New Zealand election, back in 2011. Fortunately, there is considerably more research on transgender housing and shelter rights concerns now available and I will cite this later in the article. My interest was prompted by an article in the Dutch-centred European LGBT magazine Mate (formerly known as Winq). The premise was an article that focused on LGBT youth homelessness in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Evicted from violent, homophobic/transphobic or other dysfunctional homes, LGBT homeless youth often struggle to find inclusive emergency shelter providers. Even those that are appropriate may be struggling with funding problems, overburdened by high demand for their services and other day to day anxieties of emergency shelter providers. In 2007, the US National Lesbian and Gay Taskforce published An Epidemic of Homelessness. The report indicates that half of all homeless youth in the United States are LGBT. Of these, one quarter were rendered homeless by homophobic or transphobic violence or expulsion from within the family home. Nearly sixty percent have contemplated suicide, street survival sex work is commonplace and so is alcohol or drug abuse. Sadly, one quarter of US LGBT homeless youth are HIV+ and many have unprotected sex with either adult clients of street sex workers or each other. Fortunately, in the United Kingdom there are useful organisations like the Albert Kennedy Trust and Jigsaw available to provide emergency accommodation, whether LGBTI-centred or sufficiently inclusive. However, at the time that I originally wrote the initial article on this subject, the Cameron administration had just tightened housing benefit eligibility criteria and the aforementioned organisations were worried about how this might affect future clients. However, at least the United Kingdom and Australia have national anti discrimination legislation in place that covers sexual orientation and gender identity in fields like employment, service provision and accommodation. Although some US states also do, the US Congress has yet to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which is a US employment anti discrimination statute. Added to which, frankly, the United States is severely backward when it comes to the provision of a comprehensive welfare state and construction of government housing, preferring to leave matters to the private sector.

What about New Zealand? At the time I first wrote the precursor to this article back in 2011, I noted that New Zealand still had a reasonably comprehensive welfare state and robust civil society organisations that worked on shelter and housing rights issues. Like the United Kingdom and Australia, we also have inclusive anti-discrimination laws when it comes to lesbian, gay and bisexual sexual orientations, although not in the case of gender identity. While this may change as a consequence whenever Parliament gets around to concretely including gender identity within the Human Rights Act, there are particular outstanding issues now. When it comes to rental accommodation, mortgage provision or home financing, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or HIV status, although exemptions exist for shared residential accommodation or hostels. The Independent Youth Benefit provided one way out for those aged under seventeen, unable to live at home or without children or other dependants. Secondary school students, unemployed, disabled or ill late adolescents were eligible at that time. Fortunately, I could rely on Jenny Rankine's excellent Auckland Council LGBTI needs assessment report, which described demographic clustering as a particular aspect of Auckland-based metropolitan LGBTI communities. Rainbow Youth and Outline complained about the assymetry that existed between funding levels and service demand when it came to housing and shelter rights concerns. She also noted the Youth 2000 report, which had indicated that LGBTI youth were likelier to run away, face problems with homophobic or transphobic violence in poorly supervised night shelter environments and therefore stay with other LGBTI community members. Others ended in poor quality housing and/or were forced out by homophobic/transphobic, violent, abusive, criminal or dysfunctional neighbours. In the case of under-sixteen LGBTI youth, this also applied to foster home placements. Transitioning trans people may also face headaches, given continuing lags in comprehensive modification of official documentation to reflect their current gender identities compared to their former birth genders. Outline referred displaced LGBT youth to Rainbow Youth and did not refer them to night shelters, given shared concerns about night shelter safety. In the case of domestic violence, battered gay men and trans women are at a disadvantage compared to lesbian domestic violence survivors, who can access battered women's shelters. Whether trans women can or not depends on whether local battered women's shelter providers have a transphobic 'radical feminist' governing philosophy, or a trans-inclusive one.

Schools Out, Rainbow Wellington and Queer Avengers reported individual cases of LGBT youth emergency shelter need and complained about WINZ unwillingness to provide accommodation supplement support until repeatedly pressured to do so.

To say the Christchurch earthquake has worsened matters would be an understatement. There have been continuing complaints about the pace and availability of housing stock replacement property, whether rental accommodation or purchasable housing. Given the booming Auckland property market, costs for all first homebuyers have gone up. This may mean greater relative hardship for LGBT-led families in this context, compared to either single LGBTI professionals or LGBTI professional couples, much as would be the case for their straight counterparts. Moreover, the Key administration cut off Housing New Zealand's permanent state housing accommodation tenancies in 2011, which may have particularly impacted LGBT state housing tenants disproportionately. Unfortunately, there has been no housing-specific LGBT community-based research from this quarter.

Particularly for Auckland transgender/whakawahine/fa'afafine/faikaleite street sex workers, the demands of survival sex, feeding one's dependent partners, whanau or aiga, untreated alcohol or drug abuse problems, may either lead to homelessness, or else walking a tightrope between engaging in street sex work and occupying Auckland Council rental accommodation, given that the Auckland Council's moralistic and repressive council by-laws prevent sex workers from working from their own homes in this context. When it came to submissions against the Manukau City (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill, Dr Gillian Abel condemned the proposed anti-sexwoker legislation and noted that a significant proportion of the Hunters Corner transgender/whakawahine/fa'afafine/faikaleite street sex workers were homeless, and probably subjected to the anxieties and stressors of living rough on the streets described above.

For trans women and trans men overseas, the housing policy situation is no better. Take the US National Center for Transgender Equality's Injury at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey(2011):

Housing discrimination and homelessness figures make particularly grim reading. Nineteen percent of respondents stated that they had experienced housing discrimination. Eleven percent stated that they had been evicted solely due to their gender identity, while nineteen percent stated that they experienced homelessness as a result. When it came to emergency accommodation, fifty five percent stated that they had experienced shelter-based harassment from staff and other residents of such facilities. 29% were denied access to emergency shelters altogether due to their gender identity, while two percent reported that they were currently homeless compared to one percent of the general US population. Half as many trans respondents owned their own homes (32%) compared to 67% of the US general population. Police harassment and interpersonal violence risks were also reported in this context.

However, Roberta Perkins' Transgender Lifestyle and HIV Risk (1994) suggested that transgender housing needs were perhaps better met in Australia, although it should be noted that Perkins' report predated the establishment of trans-inclusive anti discrimination laws outside South Australia, which was then the only discrimination that did include gender identity within its anti discrimination legislation, however imperfectly:

In housing terms, almost one-third lived in rental property. One sixth owned their own property freehold, while a similar proportion lived with others. One twelfth lived in either a Housing Commission property or in a refuge. None of the sample reported homelessness.

Obviously, holistic LGBT-centred housing needs research and assessment is still a pressing concern. Until we have detailed evidence-based studies, we can only infer the tip of the iceberg from the fragmentary information available above.

Sandra Huiskemiller and Sara Luitjers: "Gay Astray: The Young and Homeless:" Mate: Winter 2011: 44-51.
Albert Kennedy Trust:
Stonewall UK:
National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce: An Epidemic of Homelessness (2007):
Jenny Rankine: Auckland City Council LGBTT Community Centre Needs Assessment Report (2007)
Dr Gillian Abel:"Submission on the Manukau City (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill:
Jaime Grant, Lisa Mottet and Justin Tanis: Injury at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey: Washington DC: National Center for Transgender Equality: 2011:
Rainbow Youth:
Schools Out:

Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 9th July 2014

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