Safe Spaces: Combating Housing Disparities for LGBTQ+ Individuals

This past March in Chicago, voters were asked to vote on the Bring Chicago Home initiative. This initiative would have restructured the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), a one-time tax on properties when they are sold to create a substantial and legally dedicated revenue stream to provide permanent affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness. Homelessness and unstable housing in Chicago is one of the largest issues among LGBTQ+ and people living with HIV (PLWH). Social and economic barriers, including anti-LGBTQ+ housing discrimination, have long been a barrier to the safety and welfare of queer and trans people. Voters ultimately voted down this initiative, but not before putting a local and national spotlight on the reality of homelessness in Chicago. There is a need for increased funding for affordable housing and cultural competency training for shelters, landlords, and housing providers to help eliminate the housing crisis among LGBTQ+ people.

LGBTQ+ Discrimination in Housing

LGBTQ+ people continue to face significant bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in housing. Affordable housing needs are especially important to LGBTQ+ people as they are more likely to be low-income and unhoused. LGBTQ+ adults have higher rates of being poor compared to their cisgender counterparts and LGBTQ+ people, especially trans people, people of color, and youth, experience higher rates of poverty compared to their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. Discrimination consistently exasperates queer people from accessing shelter and housing. LGBTQ people face widespread harassment and discrimination by housing providers. For example, studies have shown housing providers are less likely to respond to rental inquiries from same-sex couples and are more likely to quote male same-sex couples higher rents than comparable different-sex couples. LGBTQ+ people face similar discrimination when attempting to own a home. Same-sex couples face system-wide discrimination by mortgage lenders. One study found that same-sex borrowers experienced a 3% to 8% lower approval rate and higher interest rates on loans than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. LGBTQ+ youth and adults also face challenges in accessing homeless shelters and services. 28% of LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing homelessness or housing instability at some point in their lives. LGBTQ+ youth report experiencing harassment and violence, staff who are not equipped to appropriately serve LGBTQ+ people, and sex-segregated facilities in which trans people are housed according to their sex assigned at birth. This leads many trans youths to go unsheltered instead. For LGBTQ+ older adults, many are at risk of being turned away from or charged higher rents at independent or assisted living centers as well as harassed, treated poorly, or forced to go back in the closet once moved to protect the housing they have secured.

For PLWH, access to housing can save their lives. Homelessness and housing instability are associated with increased vulnerability to new HIV infection and poorer health outcomes for those living with HIV. In 2020 alone, 17% of PLWH were unhoused or experiencing unstable housing. People with unstable or temporary housing have lower levels of viral suppression than those with stable housing (77.3% versus 90.8%). Stable housing is such a vital piece in reducing new HIV infection rates, that organizations like the AIDS Foundation of Chicago have made it an integral part of the Getting to Zero Illinois statewide initiative to end the HIV epidemic in the state by 2030. Housing discrimination against PLWH is illegal, but many still face housing providers and shelter systems that lack adequate cultural competency around HIV.

How To Support Affordable, Affirming, and Safe Housing

Initiatives like Bring Home Chicago highlight some of the much-needed funding for affordable housing programs and housing service providers. There are also steps that must be taken to ensure LGBTQ+ and PLWH and not discriminated and intimidated away from meeting their housing needs.

  • Expansion of housing and shelter options for LGBTQ+ youth and adults so that they are sheltered safely and appropriately.
  • Mandated training for all staff at agencies providing housing, child welfare, homelessness, and other relevant services to the LGBTQ+ and PLWH population, to ensure that staff become and remain equipped to serve this population in an affirming manner.
  • Evaluation of the extent to which LGBTQ+ people face barriers to accessing programs and services to increase housing affordability and reduce housing instability—such as Section 8 and homebuying programs of the Federal Housing Administration—and execution of corrective actions as necessary.
  • Ensuring comprehensive federal and state protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in housing, lending, and government-funded programs and activities, among other settings are being adopted and enforced. This includes advocating for $85 million in new funding in the Illinois Fiscal Year 2025 budgetspearheaded by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) — for homeless prevention, emergency shelter, homeless youth programs, supportive housing, and other priorities—to keep making progress on the HOME Illinois plan to prevent and end homelessness

Housing is an essential right. Housing is also an essential part of healthcare, The discrimination, and social and economic barriers LGBTQ+ and PLWH face when trying to secure shelter will lead to poorer health outcomes. Housing needs to be a top priority for everyone. You can visit the Bring Home Chicago website to learn more about their initiative and visit Getting to Zero Illinois to learn more about how housing can support ending the HIV epidemic in Illinois.

To learn more about how Howard Brown Health contributes to vital advocacy work and has an impact on local, state, and federal policymaking, please visit our Advocacy webpage


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
This site is not optimized for Internet Explorer. Please consider viewing the site in a modern browser such as Edge, Chrome or Firefox.