At some point, you’ve likely heard reference to The Castro in San Francisco or Greenwich Village in New York City. These are two of the most prominent LGBTQ+ communities in the country. But many more, including Boystown in Chicago, West Hollywood and Montrose in Houston, are draws for the LGBTQ+ community.
These urban nests have been home to the LGBTQ+ community since before the movement itself — but times continue to change. As the LGBTQ+ population grows exponentially, so does the desire and necessity to spread our wings.
Our numbers are increasing because we are becoming more comfortable living as our authentic selves and that isn’t by accident. I’ve said it a dozen times, the more society understands and embraces our community, the better it is for both the fabric of society and the economy. Make no mistake about it — the real estate industry will benefit.
It’s important to recognize that the LGBTQ+ population has risen to 8% of the total U.S. population, according to HRC. Greater numbers bring greater desire and longing for inclusion in the American Dream. At the top of the list are home ownership and long-term financial stability.
But owning a property in an urban setting can still be prohibitively expensive, so the LGBTQ+ community is increasingly considering suburban living. I wouldn’t call it another “Great Migration” just yet, but we’re certainly seeing the community push geographic boundaries to suburbs in most major metro areas.
Asbury Park on the New Jersey shore is a great example. Sure, Bruce Springsteen made it well-known. But did you know its recent redevelopment has been led by the same LGBTQ+ community that always had a presence there?
City historian Kathy Kelly said that because Asbury Park had fallen on hard times, LGBTQ+ people went because “Nobody was paying attention. The gay community would go where they wouldn’t get beat up, and so you could go to Asbury Park because nobody you knew was going to Asbury Park. So if you were closeted or you might be out to your family but closeted to the world, you would go to Asbury Park because its devastation protected you.”
Today it is thriving. Our community played a major role in its beautification. While it has a downtown, it’s a beach town and not an urban setting. It has welcomed LGBTQ+ people providing a safe haven filled with love and support from peers and residents allowing LGBTQ+ people to live as true authentic selves.
That brings us to almost surreal findings from AARP that shed light on a “leaving the nest” phenomenon. Its Home and Communities Preferences Survey found 28% of LGBTQ+ adults prefer to live in a suburban, small town with a walkable community. In comparison, only 18% of LGBTQ+ adults prefer to live in an urban area. This news follows a 2019 report from the Movement Advancement Project that showed that up to 20% of the LGBTQ+ community lives in rural areas.
LGBTQ+ folks want the “white-picket-fence” life just as much as heterosexual people
But wait, there’s more (as they say). The AARP report found that the LGBTQ+ community is ready to move! It found that 43% of LGBTQ+ adults were more likely to move to a different community in the future, while only 28% of non-LGBTQ+ adults were likely to do so.
But there are some continuing challenges for LGBTQ+ people. The first is obviously discrimination and the fear of it. But if LGBTQ+ folks are surrounded by like-minded and welcoming people outside of urban centers, or the 71% of Americans who support same-sex marriage according to Gallup, we may not have to keep our guard up as much.
Additionally, as AARP also reports, leaving the “nest” can result in a lack of companionship leading to feeling isolated from others. For anyone, moving is uncomfortable. For LGBTQ+ people, it is likely even more complicated as we leave a built-in support group and amenities that cater to us.
It is no wonder why the AARP report found three main areas that most LGBTQ+ adults look for when choosing a community – social participation, affordable housing, and environment & equity. Essentially, LGBTQ+ people want easy access to restaurants and shops along with a wide array of cultural activities to participate in.
Naturally, we are searching too for affordable housing options with proximity to key services. Finally, we value a community where all are treated well, no matter a person’s race, gender, age, ethnicity, identity or sexual orientation.
Armed with such information and recognizing that your sphere of influence and potential clients will likely include more LGBTQ+ representation (if it hasn’t happened already), I encourage you to ask yourself if you, as a real estate professional, are ready for this shift.
Many of you reading this are not ready, as highlighted in the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance’s second annual report. You may recall that 20.7% of Alliance members felt real estate agents were the primary culprits in how housing discrimination showed itself. While there is some blatant discrimination in our industry, most of it is caused by unconscious bias or preconceived notions.
This is where we come in.
The Alliance is committed to working within our industry to educate and bring about change. Without welcoming real estate professionals, the Alliance’s desire to grow the LGBTQ+ homeownership rate from its current – and really low – 49.8% likely won’t happen. That is one of the reasons we created our Alliance Certified Ally Course and I encourage you to sign up for the first session of 2023 on March 9.
We also want to keep sharing important information. Simply by reading this article, you’ve likely learned and hopefully improved. You have a greater understanding of how challenging it may be for members of the LGBTQ+ community to “leave the nest.” You recognize we want what so many others already have. And you can see the types of communities that we would be interested in.
As members of the LGBTQ+ community continue to leave their known, safe havens, they will need welcoming, caring and educated real estate professionals to guide them home.
Ryan Weyandt is the CEO at LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of RealTrends’ editorial department and its owners.
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