Commission releases report on senior LGBT housing

A report by the Cambridge LGBTQ+ Commission on LGBT seniors living in housing run by the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) recommended that the CHA sponsor programming for people who identify as LGBT, include gender identity as a protected class in the CHA anti-discrimination policy and collect information about how many LGBT seniors live in CHA housing.

The November 2016 report, “LGBT Inclusive Housing for Older Adults in Cambridge,” included national research about the unique problems LGBT seniors face and the results of a survey of CHA employees about the nature of LGBT inclusivity in CHA housing.

“Are we explicitly making sure that our institutions that are serving older adults are prepared for them? Do they know what their needs are?” said Elysia Chandler, the author of the report and only employee of the LGBTQ+ Commission.

LGBT seniors are less likely than non-LGBT seniors to have a social support system, since they are more likely to be single, less likely to have children and likely to have lost friends due to HIV/AIDS, according to a February 2011 study by the San Diego LGBT Community Center, which is quoted in the report.

The CHA operates 12 buildings in Cambridge designated for seniors and people with disabilities, such as the Lyndon B. Johnson Apartments on Erie St. and the Daniel F. Burns Apartments on Churchill Ave.

According to a survey of 24 CHA employees, with titles ranging from property manager to direct care provider, 41.7 percent of CHA staff strongly agree or agree with the statement: “CHA creates a welcoming environment for senior residents who may identify as LGBT.” The same percentage checked that they neither agree nor disagree with the statement, and 8.3 percent strongly disagreed or disagreed with the statement.

Chandler met with CHA staff in October 2016 to go over the results of the report.

“They were really responsive to some of our suggestions,” she said.

The report includes recommendations for creating a more inclusive and supportive LGBT environment in CHA housing. The recommendations are based off of national best practices used in larger organizations such as Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders and the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, Chandler said.

The report recommends that CHA train its staff in LGBT cultural proficiency. Of those CHA staff surveyed, 62.5 indicated that they would like to receive training about the needs and concerns of LGBT seniors.

“It was a normal mixed bag where some people knew LGBT needs and some people didn’t. They were accepting of really wanting to know more,” Chandler said.

The CHA human resources director and another staff member are preparing a LGBT training for staff this spring, based off of the findings of the report, according to Mike Johnston, the executive director of CHA.

The report also recommended that CHA include gender identity as a protected class in its anti-discrimination policy, although it is already a protected class under Massachusetts Housing non-discrimination laws and the federal Equal Access Rule implemented by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2012.

“We recommend your antidiscrimination policy reflect the state and city policy,” Chandler said.

CHA is not planning on updating their anti-discrimination policy to include gender identity since a multitude of state and federal laws already do so, Johnston said.

CHA should collect sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) information from its residents in a voluntary and confidential way, the report said. It suggested that this could be done in a resident satisfaction survey.

The resident satisfaction survey that is currently open for responses on CHA’s website does not include requests for SOGI information, but Johnston said CHA does plan on collecting this data separately from the survey.

“It would give us an idea of what the population is in our properties. If we did do it, it would be interesting to do it by property so we get a feel of who is in each particular property so we could tailor events or manager training to the site,” Johnston said.

The LGBTQ+ Commission report is just the first part in an ongoing assessment of LGBT supportive housing options in Cambridge. Chandler said she would like to survey CHA residents about their experiences with LGBT inclusivity.

“People can start quantifying how many people live in the organization who identify as LGBT. They are here and they exist and this population is important to serve the needs of,” Chandler said.