Why Affordable Housing is a Queer Issue

A Changing Climate Means A Changing Society. The Island Press Urban Resilience Project, Supported By The Kresge Foundation And The JPB Foundation, Is Committed To A Greener, Fairer Future.​ This Article Was Originally Published May 15, 2019 On Greater Greater Washington as part of the Urbanist Journalism Fellowship.

The Dyke March, a grassroots march for queer liberation led by self-identifying dykes, first started in the District in 1993. It subsequently spread to major cities in North America and the UK, but fizzled out in DC. Now local organizers are bringing it back to the District on June 7 after a more than decade-long hiatus, and their inaugural theme is “Dykes Against Displacement.”

The event is usually more of a protest than a parade, drawing on the long history of LGBTQ organizing which began most famously with the Stonewall riot in New York City in 1969. Famous activist figures like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were leaders of the uprising, and continued their activisim for trans and queer rights up until their deaths. Johnson and Rivera ran a trans youth center called Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which helped to shelter homeless and hungry kids.

In keeping with that tradition, local marchers have decided to raise money for local organizations that help displaced people in the District, including One DC and No Justice No Pride. Last year’s Dyke March in New York City raised money for RAICES, a Texas based non-profit that provides legal services for immigrants.

Black and Indigenous trans queer people are the most at risk of being displaced, so the march will focus on uplifting voices from these communities. Besides raising funds, the march aims to raise awareness about housing and gentrification issues by amplifying the work that local organizations are already doing, such as organizing tenants against displacement tactics and calling on the city to build more affordable homes.

“We want to raise awareness within our community and act in solidarity with groups that do displacement work in DC,” Dyke March community outreach coordinator Christen Boas Hayes told me. “When it comes to gentrifying neighborhoods, we want to make sure that we’re understanding how the broader community is impacting displacement in DC, whether it’s the arts community or the LGBT community.”

According to a recent study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, DC has the highest rate of gentrification out of any city in the US. Prices are going up, while the current supply of affordable housing isn't keeping up with the need, almost a third of local public housing is nearly uninhabitable, and the city still struggles to address chronic homelessness.

In 2018, Editorial Board member Dan Reed wrote about how lack of affordable housing and transportation options affect LGBTQ people. He notes that queer people, who overall have less wealth and deal with discrimination in jobs and housing, can be pushed further out from city centers where they might be able to more easily find jobs and cheaper places to live.

Displacement, housing discrimination, and housing insecurity are issues that disproportionately impact LGBTQ people, especially transgender youth. Anti-LGBTQ discrimination reached an all-time high in DC in 2018, and hate crimes against this community have been rising over the last three years.

According to the a survey conducted by the DC Center for the LGBT Community, “26% of transgender people have a hard time finding different places to sleep at for short periods of time and 11% have been evicted at least once, 19% of transgender respondents do not have a living space, and 13% of those who have a living space do not feel safe in their own home.”

Some proposed solutions to displacement and homelessness include universal housing, which would provide state-funded housing to everyone regardless of income. Matthew Desmond, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Evicted, calls for a universal housing voucher program that would work much like food stamps and would give people access to housing everywhere. One DC has a right to housing platform; the Dyke March is not making any policy recommendations.

DC already has a housing voucher program run by the DC Housing Authority, but the program has been widely criticized for allowing landlords to discriminate against tenants who want to use vouchers. Even when people get housing, there can be issues. Recently, when tenants with city-issued housing vouchers moved into upscale Sedgwick Gardens apartments in Cleveland Park, residents raised concerns about pot smoke and other nuisances.

There are some signs of progress. The District has since promised to raise penalties for landlords evading vouchers, and the District is setting affordable housing targets for all parts of the city.

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