How the housing crisis is affecting the LGBT+ community in Ireland

With a crisis that seems to be growing rather than lessening, the LGBT+ community are being adversely impacted by the housing situation.

LGBT+ housing crisis : a series of multicoloured doors in Dublin

From trans and non-binary folk forced into situations that may compromise their welfare, to an older generation at risk of isolation, to LGBT+ creatives unable to focus on making and doing, the effects of the housing crisis are diverse and unique in their manifestation. Stephen Moloney speaks with a handful of members of the LGBT+ community to gain some insight into the lived experience of the housing crisis and a broken system.

Greta

My family are Lithuanian. While they’re not transphobic per se, they’re definitely not experienced in that sort of thing so I don’t know how to come out to them. I want to move out in order to have that space to be able to tell them without the risk of being kicked out in a worst-case scenario. No matter how bad the situation could be when I do come out,
I would have somewhere to go back to. 

I’m looking for accommodation in Dublin with no luck so far. When I go to a property viewing, I’m very unlikely to get it. People are nervous about considering a trans person as a housemate. Some places might only be looking for a female housemate, but they won’t consider a trans person. It certainly rules out the idea of sharing a room too. I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with another person, especially if they’re male, while a cis woman probably wouldn’t feel comfortable either. I’ve had situations where I’ve almost had accommodation secured until the other person tells me they’re not comfortable. While I have a certain budget, it’s like there’s an added cost: a tax for being trans, meaning you have to pay extra. 

My trans network in Dublin has only been building recently, and they’ve been helping me lot. If I want to have a social life, I can crash with them but you don’t want to appear like you’re abusing that offer and sleeping in their bed every weekend. I’m frequently on dating sites for trans people, and I get messages regularly from other trans users about finding a queer community in order to find a safe space in which to explore their gender. 

In Dublin, you’re almost able to live a little more anonymously. In a smaller town, you can’t necessarily go out in public in the gender that you want to. If I went out like this in Wicklow town, it would inevitably get back to my parents in some way. Right now, my routine sees me come to college in Dublin at 7am. I get changed into the clothes that I feel comfortable in and then at 7pm I get changed again and head home from college. That management of my daily life, all because I don’t live somewhere I can feel more at ease as myself, is exhausting. A big reason I want to move to Dublin is so I don’t have to change personas all the time. In Wicklow, I feel locked down. 

I’m looking into studying law next year and Glasgow is a proposition right now. Accommodation costs would be a lot more affordable, and there’s a trans community there that I can settle in with. As much as I love Dublin, it’s becoming more and more unlikely that I can find somewhere to suit me.

David 

I was born in Chicago but my grandmother was born in County Monaghan and I was able to obtain Irish citizenship by descent. I just recently turned 65, and I am a Trump refugee. Sometimes people laugh when I say that, but there is nothing funny about it. The LGBT+ community in the US is under attack and people are at real risk, especially vulnerable populations such as LGBT+ seniors. Affordable healthcare is still not universally available in the US and neither is affordable housing for LGBT+ seniors.

In 2012, while teaching in Slovakia, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer (Stage II). I underwent surgery and radiation therapy there and then returned to the US for additional treatment. It was a long, painful process to obtain the disability benefits that I spent a lifetime accruing. 

Today, I have modest means available to pay an affordable rent, but who can afford the exorbitant rents that are currently being asked in Dublin and Cork? I am temporarily staying with a transgender activist who has generously offered me a place to couch-surf in her tiny studio in Cork.  It’s not comfortable for either of us, but at least I’m not sleeping rough during an Irish winter.

It is shocking to me, the lack of support that LGBT+ seniors receive [in Ireland], I know of at least six others who are experiencing housing insecurity due to the crisis as well. How about LGBT+ leaders in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere advocate on behalf of these seniors for co-housing options? It shouldn’t be such a radical notion.

Robyn

I grew up on the Northside of Dublin and am now based in Glasgow after moving here in September. I started my degree in Fine Art in NCAD before dropping out because I couldn’t afford to stay in Dublin and had no other choice. Throughout my time in NCAD I felt I was constantly unable to catch up on myself. The lack of housing stability affected everything. I could never think into the future. I spent 9-5 in college every day and worked more than 20 hours a week just to afford materials and food for myself – all while living in a house I had no choice in. 

The way Ireland treats artists is shockingly bad. There are little to no studios, and the ones that are available are at an unaffordable price. Most artists I know have emigrated due to the inability to freelance without working at least 30 hours a week. What sort of life is that? 

The current housing crisis affects the LGBT+ community in so many ways. It affects our relationships, friendships, sex lives – everything. Throughout my teens I wasn’t out as queer due to the lack of stability in my life. Growing up, my mother and I experienced a lot of violence to the point where we were unable to live in the home I grew up in as a child. Throughout my early teens we rented various places until it became dangerously unmanageable due to the rent being so high. My mother starved just so she could feed me and pay the rent. It was the toughest time of our lives. I couldn’t imagine a future for myself, never mind thinking of my sexuality and having relationships with women. I shut myself off to people, never really giving away what I was going through. The housing crisis puts LGBT+ people in serious danger – whether that’s forcing us to live in oppressive dysfunctional family homes, or living with strangers who don’t seem to get it.

I can say with complete honesty that the housing crisis was my main reason for leaving Dublin. When I had to leave my most recent house, it was because of an ongoing dangerous situation that was tearing me apart, and deeply affecting my mental and physical health. When I left, I stayed between different friends’ houses in Dublin for just over a month while searching for an affordable room – and working 30-40 hours a week. Most rooms that were offered to me were completely out of my price range. 

I went to countless viewings, sent countless emails and still struggled to find anything. One day I was sitting in work after getting a rejection email and lost it. I wrote a list of pros and cons on moving away to the UK somewhere or staying in Dublin. Glasgow was the first place that came to mind as I had spent a bit of time there in the past and knew a couple of other Irish queer people living there. I read over that list every day for a week and realised it was my only option. I gave my notice to my job, talked to NCAD and booked flights a week later. 

Ollie

I’m from Tallaght and I have just graduated from Trinity College Dublin. I’m a trans rights activist and the co-founder of Trans Pride Dublin. I was homeless a few years ago for a few months when I was sleeping on the floor of a friend’s place. I was made homeless after a falling out at home. 

I have spent time couch-surfing. You’re put in such a precarious situation where you don’t have a stable living condition and any security you do have can be taken away from you at any time. The couch-surfing caused me more mental health problems than living at home. Trying to find somewhere more permanent to live while being homeless gave me too much anxiety so I decided to return home even though it wasn’t the best place for me to be at that time.  

Homelessness affects trans people more than cis people due to the higher risk of our families not accepting us. The lack of education means that a lot of us will stay closeted in order to not be homeless or engage with homelessness services. Non-binary people have a harder time due to the fact that many of us have to out ourselves or face being misgendered.  

I think the LGBT+ community is aware of these challenges because either they are living the reality themselves or know someone who is going through that. The government on the other hand are barely acknowledging the housing crisis as is, let alone the challenges LGBT+ people face. The government would rather turn a blind eye and sell off the land to vulture funds than actually build public housing. 

Donal

My boyfriend, Dave, and I got our eviction notice in March and, with two months notice – we were out. The landlord was selling. We ended up house-sitting for one of my dad’s friends for seven months but have just moved home separately in the past week. I’ve used the opportunity of not paying rent to make a career change. We plan to save for a deposit so we’ll probably be home for the foreseeable future. I’m not particularly optimistic about the whole situation.

We’re both finding it difficult. It’s hard not having a space that’s your own and constantly having to visit each other. Even down to the practical things like needing to pack clothes for the next day. It’s really unfortunate that we don’t think it would be affordable to be renting while trying to save for a deposit but I guess we’re really lucky compared to people who don’t have parents to fall back on.

Antoin

I’m originally from Machaire Rabhartaigh (Magheroarty) in the Gaeltacht in Donegal and am currently living in Crumlin. I’m not a fan of Dublin by any stretch and do not want to live here but I don’t see a choice. I’m a screenwriter [and] this is pretty much the only place where TV happens.

I am at the point in my life now where I want to stop wasting dead money on rent and start saving for a deposit for my own place. However, in Dublin this is nigh-on impossible due to the extortionate cost of everything, and to move home would be massively counterproductive to my career. I’ve decided on a career in the arts, as my work has been really well received, but the problem of doing that is that, in Ireland, it’s really not enough to support yourself unless you’re middle class and incredibly well connected or have financial support.  

I would love to move home and be around my family and friends, and not have to live in Dublin by myself but I worry about homophobia. While Machaire Rabhartaigh is a lovely village and [has] no problem with my sexuality – at least not to my face – [but] during the marriage equality referendum my village and surrounding areas were overwhelmingly No votes. I worry about moving home, especially in a post-Brexit and Trump world where hate crime is on the rise. 

I know not everyone is an ignorant homophobe but this is the area I grew up in, and I was bullied mercilessly for my sexuality. To move home and be surrounded by a lot of people from school who made my life hell makes me very uncomfortable.  

Of course, there are gays around home but there are no bars or community centres, beside those in Letterkenny or Derry, which are at least an hour away with very little public transport. In terms of a gay scene there is very little to actually do, and for people I know who are home, they’re in Dublin every second weekend. To be gay at home means giving up on a sex and love life and I’m not willing to do that.  

The housing crisis has made a career in the arts pretty much impossible unless you’re middle class. Working in the arts also means mortgages are almost impossible to come by as I’m only ever on short-term contracts. 

I know I would be better off just settling, taking an office job and working my way up to make a load of money for a deposit, but I am passionate about my career and seemingly have talent that I want to show off and give my best shot. To move home would be a massive sacrifice on my part and without LGBT+ spaces or public transport it’s a risk I’m unwilling to take.

This story on LGBT+ people affected by the housing crisis originally appeared in GCN Issue 361 released in February 2020. You can read more here.

© 2020 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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