21 Dec 2021

Discrimination in housing market leading to takatāpui and LGBTQI homelessness - study

8:18 am on 21 December 2021

Some takatāpui and LGBTQI people are having to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity just to find a place to live, new research has found.

Dr Brodie Fraser found people were having to hide their LGBTIQ+ identity to try and find housing.

Dr Brodie Fraser found people were having to hide their LGBTQI identity to try and find housing. Photo: Supplied / Tim Onnes

Otago University Research Fellow Dr Brodie Fraser studied the experiences of eight takatāpui and LGBTQI people prior to homelessness.

They found as a result of discrimination in the housing market, some in the rainbow communities have become homeless.

In New Zealand, homelessness includes couch surfing, living in a car, emergency accommodation like a shelter or refuge, living in a garage or sleeping rough.

Little is known about the experiences of homelessness among takatāpui and LGBTQI people in Aotearoa - official data just doesn't exist. The Census, which captures the homeless population, doesn't yet collect information about gender diverse communities, and neither do rough sleeping counts.

International studies have found 20-40 percent of homeless populations are from rainbow communities despite this group only making up 5-10 percent of the wider population.

Data that is available in Aotearoa has been collected by the communities themselves, with a focus on gender diverse people.

The 2018 Counting Ourselves Survey found almost one in five trans and non-binary New Zealanders have been homeless - and an even higher number of this community had this experience if they were non-European.

A Gender Minorities survey focusing on takatāpui, trans and non-binary people in Wellington found three quarters of participants had experienced homelessness more than once.

Many participants Fraser interviewed described the discrimination they faced while house hunting.

Fraser spoke to one takatāpui person, Nico*, whose experience of discrimination while looking for a house to live left them reducing their expectation of the housing market.

"... I can write really well and speak in a way that everybody ... feels like they wanna trust me ... [I have a] stable job, like all that sort of stuff, I have a family, you know like I don't drink, I don't do drugs ... I go to f*cking bed early ... technically a tenant like me is the sort of person everyone wants to rent their house to but because I'm trans people don't wanna rent their house to me."

Nico had spent time as a child, and young adult in foster care, couch surfing, squatting and living in a bus and a van.

"It was just impossible for them to find housing even though they had a glowing history and they had an income and really good references - they just found it really impossible and ended up becoming homeless again with a disabled child," Fraser said.

Clara* spent time in her late teens and early adulthood in emergency accommodation, hostels, sleeping rough and couch surfing.

As a Māori trans woman, she told Fraser she felt like landlords would make judgements about her based on her gender identity - that she would be "too hard" to deal with.

"I think landlords are really dubious about transgender people... I don't know what it is, I think it falls into that [too] hard basket category again where ... they don't wanna bother, they don't wanna know about it, cuz it's not the normal," she told Fraser.

Fraser found it was common for people to have to hide their identity in order to find a flat.

"If you can't hide your identity, if you're visibly trans, that's a whole other thing, it makes it really hard," they said.

"One of my participants, she'd had this stressed out time with her housing going on, been homeless off and on and had finally found a flat. She'd been there for a few months and one day the flatmate came home and said to her 'I only want to live with women' and she was like, 'Well, hello, I am a woman thanks very much'."

The flatmate asked the woman to leave and she became homeless again.

"It obviously doesn't put people in the safest positions if they're having to conceal their identity in a house and then try to negotiate that once they're living there about whether or not it's safe to come out," Fraser said.

It's not just gender diverse people who feel they need to conceal their identity in order to access housing. Ayeisha*, a Pākehā woman now in her late 70s, told Fraser she knew she had to be discreet about her sexuality when looking for a house.

Ayeisha, who experienced homelessness in the 1980s, had previously been kicked out of the garage she was living in because she said the landlords suspected she was a lesbian and found a reason to end her tenancy.

Marielle* did the same. As a Pākehā queer woman, she wouldn't tell people about her sexuality when she was homeless and looking for a flat to live in. "You just kind of get very good at making yourself fit whatever mould they need to find."

Fraser says experiences of discrimination based on gender or sexuality also intersected with experiences of racism and poverty.

Poverty is one of the main catalysts to homelessness and when it is combined with racism it can systemically lock people out of housing, pushing them into homelessness, they said.

"Everybody was experiencing pretty extreme poverty at some point or another, and that wasn't dependent on class background."

"For whatever reasons, and often due to their gender identity, sexual orientation, whether or not they had addictions or whether or not they were Māori or were sex workers, these things combined and made it hard for them to maintain a stable job and one that you could progress through."

Fraser says there needs to be better regulation of the private rental market.

"Landlords technically aren't meant to discriminate against potential tenants but they obviously really are ... landlords are a business and they should be regulated like a business."

Boarding and flatting situations need to be better regulated too, they said, to ensure people aren't discriminated in these situations.

*Names changed for privacy

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