The BC housing crisis has produced barriers for renters and buyers alike, but what does it mean for already marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ+ community? Although there is an abundance of housing in the province, with 25,000 empty homes in Vancouver alone according to a 2019 study, factors such as short term rentals, gentrification, and a liberalized, competition-based economy make access to housing a struggle for many British Columbians, especially within groups who experience multiple layers of oppression. Thus, the problem is not simply a lack of housing but instead a lack of access to housing.
One of the primary factors limiting accessibility to housing for the queer community is class. LGBTQ+ individuals in Canada are overrepresented in both low-income as well as homelessness statistics. According to The 519, an LGBTQ+ nonprofit based in Toronto, between 25-40% of the Canadian homeless youth population self-identify as LGBTQ+. Moreover, in a 2018 study, Statistics Canada found that 41% of the LGBTQ+ community had a net personal income of less than $20,000 per year. In contrast, 26% of non-LGBTQ+ Canadians made up this income bracket.
In addition to these class-based obstacles are social barriers that prevent LGBTQ+ folks from accessing safe housing. For instance, stigmas around the queer community may dissuade landlords from renting to LGBTQ+ identifying individuals. On top of this, BC's minimum wage increase still does not allow many to afford rent on their own, and thus many lower-income folks must live in communal or roommate-based housing situations. Thus, an additional layer of concern is produced; there is no guarantee that the space, and the other individuals in that space, will be LGBTQ+ friendly.
Moreover, the unique context of our lives today within the COVID-19 pandemic adds additional safety barriers. As noted by the previously mentioned Statistics Canada study, during the pandemic, "LGBTQ2+ youth may be forced to isolate at home with homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic family members," and other housing options may not be affordable or accessible.
Through a historical materialist perspective, one may argue that many of these prejudices are socially and economically produced and should be better understood as recent histories rather than inherent within our human nature. However, these stigmas are real and ingrained within our society today, requiring social restructuring to be eradicated.
Thus, the underlying cause of the housing crisis is the system that places competition and economic development over the most marginalized groups' lives. Also, the crisis is compounded by marginalizing social factors for LGBTQ people, further limiting access to housing. However, this does not mean that the LGBTQ+ housing crisis should be viewed as separation from the crisis as a whole since the most significant point of connection is that of class status. Ignoring this fact and seeking single-issue solutions which may only fix one side of this multifaceted crisis is therefore counterproductive to the safety and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community.
Tessa Wotherspoon is an undergraduate student at UBCO double majoring in Sociology and Political Science. Her research interests include anti-capitalism, labour, critical animal studies, and feminist/queer theory. They are a local activist in Kelowna, British Columbia.