High Levels of Same-Sex Discrimination in Senior Living Searches

Older same-sex couples face high levels of discrimination when seeking senior living accommodations compared to their heterosexual counterparts, finds a new investigation. 

National nonprofit civil rights organization the Equal Rights Center recently released a report, “Opening Doors: An Investigation of Barriers to Senior Housing for Same-Sex Couples,” that documents the results of 200 matched-pair telephone tests the organization conducted in 10 states.

Testers conducted 20 telephone inquiries in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington, with an even split between those posing as a same-sex or heterosexual couple. 

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In nearly half (48%) of the 200 tests, a tester inquiring about housing in a  senior living community for a same-sex couple experienced at least one form of “adverse differential treatment,” says the ERC, compared to a tester asking about housing for a heterosexual couple. 

“This investigation is the first of its kind to focus on providing objective, quantitative data specific to older same-sex couples seeking senior housing,” said Don Kahl, Executive Director of the ERC, in a statement on the investigation. “Older LGBT individuals face many unique challenges when seeking housing at senior-living facilities, and discriminatory practices cause further, undue hardship in the lives of LGBT seniors at a time when financial resources are often becoming more limited.” 

The investigation used a “matched-pair” methodology where testers had virtually identical profiles, except one pair identified as same-sex, while the other was part of an opposite-sex married couple. The testers interacted with senior housing agents to ask about moving into their senior living community.

States were chosen to provide a measure of geographic diversity across the country, and also to include states along the spectrum of sexual orientation anti-discrimination protections, the ERC notes.

In some cases, the purported heterosexual couple tester would receive additional information about available units from the senior housing agent beyond what was told to the same-sex counterpart. Other agents would tell the same-sex couple tester about additional fees, costs, or a more extensive application process compared to the heterosexual tester. 

Other differential treatment the testers experienced included the tester for the opposite-sex couple receiving more information about community amenities that were never mentioned to the tester for the same-sex couple.

On the other end of the spectrum, some same-sex couple testers were offered specials and discounts that opposite-sex couple testers were not offered.

“Policy makers and housing providers must work together to ensure that safe and affordable housing is accessible and available to all older people, regardless of their sexual orientations and gender identities,” said Michael Adams, the executive director of SAGE, a national organization representing LGBT seniors. 

The ERC collaborated with SAGE on the creation and release of the report, and the investigation was supported by grants from the Retirement Research Fund and the Gill Foundation. 

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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