Transgender Emergency Fund launches one-of-a-kind housing initiative in Boston

Finding accommodation in Boston is notoriously difficult and expensive. With Boston housing shortage crisis, rise in median rents and increasing rates of gentrification, finding accommodation is a very precarious dance. But this dance to find accommodation is even trickier for members of the LGBTQIA community.

Chastity Bowick, Executive Director of the Transgender Emergency Fund, knows the struggle for housing intimately because she has experienced it herself. “Finding housing as a black trans woman is extremely difficult,” she says. “When I was looking for apartments, no one was renting to me. I had the income, the down payment…I had the references, and no one could give me a reason why they wouldn’t accept me as a tenant.”

Transgender Emergency Fund Executive Director Chasity Bowick says there is an urgent need for housing for Boston’s trans and non-binary population. (Arielle Gray/WBUR)

Housing discrimination based on gender or sexuality is illegal under Massachusetts state law, but that doesn’t stop it from happening. A 2015 survey of National Center for Transgender Equality found that 21% of respondents experienced housing discrimination in Massachusetts and 8% experienced homelessness due to their transgender identity. For those seeking temporary shelter accommodation, national statistics show that 30% of trans people said they were turned away because they “were transgender or because of their gender expression”.

Bowick herself was homeless in 2012. She contacted the Transgender Emergency Fund for help and they set her up with food and a hotel room. This help changed his life. Ten years later, she leads the organization as it embarks on a housing initiative that is the first of its kind in the city.

TEF spent months looking for a large home in the city, where they could provide housing and other resources for trans and non-binary people who are experiencing housing insecurity. In May, a suitable property was found and the organization officially launched its housing program. It can now offer rooms to eight trans and non-binary people in need of accommodation. At the time of this piece’s reporting, four people had moved into the property. (To protect the safety of these individuals, we will not release the address.)

One of them is Mickie Jones, a 32-year-old medical assistant who moved to Boston from Alabama in 2016 to pursue studies in cosmetology. In May 2022, she became homeless after being rudely evicted by a roommate. “I almost fell into the deep end,” Jones recalled of his experience over the summer. She had saved $3,000 working, but those funds quickly dried up after paying for Airbnbs, food and transportation. “I was doing everything I was supposed to. I was in charge. And, you know, it all backfired. And I couldn’t understand why.”

With her next paycheck over a week away, her bank account nearly empty, and her last night at her Airbnb fast approaching, Jones decided to reach out to Bowick and the Transgender Emergency Fund for help. It wasn’t long before she had a room at home and the resources to start rebuilding her life. “It’s more than just a halfway house,” Jones says. “I was able to get my license back. I’m back in school for September and found a better job coming up.”

At left, Chasity Bowick hangs a sign in the house's laundry room.  On the right, Bowick walks through the future computer room, where residents will have access to computers and the internet.  (Arielle Gray/WBUR)
At left, Chasity Bowick hangs a sign in the house’s laundry room. On the right, Bowick walks through the future computer room, where residents will have access to computers and the Internet. (Arielle Gray/WBUR)

Indeed, the organization’s housing initiative offers much more than just a room. “We want to provide comprehensive services,” says Bowick. “It’s about creating a path to sustainability.” It’s a continuation of much of the work TEF was already doing for trans and non-binary people who have asked for help. This includes providing financial support for rent, utilities, transportation and medical costs, securing housing or temporary shelter, and helping with job creation and literacy financial. For those living at home, things like laundry, bedding, and personal hygiene supplies are provided by TEF.

“Because so many trans and non-binary people are kicked out of our homes or forced to leave home early, we’ve missed some of those life lessons,” Bowick said. “How do I balance a checkbook? How much should I have in my savings? These are things we are all learning together as the program continues.” People staying in the house have their room for up to a year, during which time they are expected to seek employment and contribute to their savings account. “The goal is that they have saved enough for the first time [month’s rent]last month’s rent, security deposit and some funds to pay for the furniture before they leave. »

While Bowick and TEF are delighted that the housing program is getting underway, they emphasize that the road to securing a site and supporting the initiative has not been and is not easy. “Even when we were looking for a house and explaining to potential owners what the program was about, we were getting answers like, ‘Is this a program for predators?’ or other transphobic and homophobic comments.”

Transgender Emergency Fund Executive Director Chastity Bowick reviews the 84 applications for financial assistance. "We are the only such program here.  We need more support." (Arielle Gray/WBUR)
Transgender Emergency Fund Executive Director Chastity Bowick reviews the 84 applications for financial assistance. “We are the only such program here. We need more support.” (Arielle Gray/WBUR)

“Right now we have 24 requests for the house and only four beds,” Bowick points out. “We have 84 applications for housing assistance. You can’t tell me that housing isn’t a real need for the LGBTQ+ community here. And it’s something Boston needs to pay attention to.”

TEF has signed a two-year lease and is trying to secure funds to purchase the house. The goal is to continue to provide stable housing for trans and non-binary people who need it. Bowick says the city of Boston and local foundations need to step up their efforts.

“We have all these Pride programs here in the city…Boston now has an office for LGBTQ+ advancement and just got housing for LGBTQ+ seniors. We’re going to lobby them…so that really put their money where they say it does.

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