How Three Black, Trans-led Organizations Are Transforming Housing for the Transgender Community

These are the Black trans women from across the country that are making efforts to solve the issue of homelessness within their community.

trans women
Alice Morgan

Homelessness is one of the many layers of oppression that trans women of color face. Often times, Black trans women who are trying to avoid being homeless are forced to stay in abusive households and relationships, says Kayla Gore, the founder of My Sistaha's House, an organization working to alleviate the issue of homelessness for marginalized groups by building tiny homes. “Violence is steadily increasing among black trans women, particularly because of lack of access to safe gender-affirming house housing,” Gore tells House Beautiful. “A lot of trans people stay in domestic violence[-filled] relationships because there are no organizations that provide [housing] to trans people.”

This reality, paired with the rise in anti-trans rhetoric stemming from recent legislative disagreements, has made it hard for many trans women of color to obtain housing. The Trump administration had refused to fully implement the 2012 Equal Access Rule, which mandated that shelters stay "open to all eligible individuals and families without regard to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status," and even proposed a rule that "would have allowed shelter programs and operators to subject transgender individuals to inappropriate and intrusive inquiries, deny them accommodations, and subject them to greater harassment," according to an April press release from the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development. (That proposal was ultimately withdrawn in the Biden administration.)

Around 42% of transgender people experience some form of homelessness in their lifetime, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, which surveyed 27,715 individuals to compile the report.

My Sishta’s House is among the many Black and trans-led non-for-profits paving a path forward for housing equity in the trans community. Other organizations include Chicago Brave Space Alliance and Sisters PGH, based in Pittsburgh. Together they stand, against all odds, in the hope of making sure everyone in their community has a place to call home.

Tiny Homes Present a Promising Future

Gore founded My Sistah’s House alongside co-founder Illyahnna Wattshall five years ago, when they were working at an LGBTQ center in Memphis, Tennessee and noticed how many of their clients were facing homelessness. The pair began the effort by simply housing trans women in need of their own personal space, and Gore tells HB that back then, she never expected the organization to get as big as it is now. My Sistah's House has experienced so much growth that they are now in the process of building 20 tiny homes for trans women in dire need of housing.

Why build tiny homes? Gore says she believed creating tiny homes, rather than traditional larger houses, would be a more cost-effective way to alleviate the issue of homelessness among the trans community. “We wanted to make a permanent decision on houselessness in our community and increase homeownership among black [trans] people, by building Tiny Homes in a community land trust," she explains. But as she would later find out, building a tiny home can be nearly as expensive as building a traditional house.

my sistah's house
Gore and members of My Sistah’s House outside of a tiny house.
My Sistah's House

Having tremendous control over the design is one thing Gore loves about building tiny houses. The planning is done with the approval of the housing justice committee, along with the community members at My Sistah's House. “Our members have been able to move furniture around, move walls around, put windows in different spaces to see what kind of effect [they'll have]," Gore explains. "Because they are going to be the inhabitants, so we want them to be involved throughout the whole [design] process.”

Gore's work to transform the housing space has certainly not gone unnoticed. She was recently featured in a National Geographic series hosted by Gal Godot, titled Impact. And she reached $340,387 in donations via her GoFundMe page. But Gore knows that this is just the beginning of finding a permanent solution to homelessness in the transgender community.

The Importance of Black Trans Women in Leadership Positions

For founder LaSaia Wade of Brave Space Alliance, the first Black and Trans-led LGBTQ center on Chicago's South Side, Black trans women are long are overdue for being represented in leadership roles. Before she founded Brave Space Alliance in 2017, Wade had applied for several different positions at organizations and non-for-profits, but was turned down for each in the end. “I believe they did not want to take the risk in hiring an intelligent trans [Black] woman, as they didn’t think I was going to allow them to run over me, which is true,” she explains. “So, I think, for myself, it was imperative to really hone in on creating a different power structure.”

Brave Space Alliance now services an average of 50 transgender and non-gender-conforming people a day, providing them with food, resources, and other essential needs. Just last year, their food pantries around Chicago helped feed over 200,000 people.

Wade herself experienced homelessness for a season in her life, during which she not having access to a homeless shelter that accommodated trans women. That's what pushed her to hide her trans identity at the time. It was at that moment that she realized once she got back on her feet, she would do everything in her power to make sure other trans women of color didn’t have to go through what she experienced.

brave space alliance members
Members of Brave Space Alliance at a mural unveiling.
Evan Cain

In 2023, Brave Space Alliance will debut the Lucy Hick Anderson Housing Program, which is named after one of the first documented Black transgender women. The organization will be purchasing two separate housing complexes to facilitate the program. One will be reserved for housing trans femme and trans women, while the other will be set aside for transmasculine and trans men. The program is planned to offer LGBTQ+ members 18 years or older access to stable housing and career-building support for a timeframe of 18 months.

“[With this program] I'm hoping to create a space where trans people are able to not hid their trans identity but instead are able to push themselves forward in a way that they wish to," Wade says.

Creating Generational Wealth & Homeownership In the Trans Community

Ciora Thomas started Sisters PGH in 2013 after she began reflecting on her own past experiences with homelessness, youth sex trafficking, and drug addiction. Based in Pittsburgh, the organization works to help local trans and non-binary people with resources to job opportunities, mental health support, and emergency housing needs.

Thomas began Project T, a transitional housing program, in late 2020, after purchasing property a year before. Through this program, trans women who are experiencing chronic homelessness are offered the chance to have free housing with the expectation that they find employment in the first month of moving in. Over the duration of time they spend at Project T, they will be offered resources that will help them find a stable job, learn the basics of budgeting, and gain cooking skills, which will help them create a secure income and life after the program. Thomas adds that the program is not merely a temporary housing plan, but something meant to increase the homeownership rates for Black trans women overall.

“I think the most important thing is that we are creating homeowners, and inspiring black trans women to become homeowners... It's time to own our own land; it's time to own our housing and create generational wealth for our community," says Thomas, vehemently.

sisters pgh members painting a ramp
Thomas and members/tenants at Project T painting a wheelchair access ramp that was recently added to the home.
Sisters PGH

Making strides toward creating generational wealth in the Black trans community is not an easy task. Especially when about 34 percent of Black trans women are found to make less than $10,000 a year, according to a report by the National LGBTQ Task Force. This is more than twice the rate we see this occur for transgender people of all races, and 8 times the rate we see for the general population.

Despite this, Thomas believes she holds the “blueprint” to make this change happen. “My blueprint is built out. And [Project T ] is going to have more homes around the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And then we were going to expand throughout the country, though partnership initiative," she says.

Currently, she is working on facilitating a program within Project T that will allow members to learn from real estate agents and financial advisers to help them get tips on becoming a homeowner, and how to increase their credit scores. Once they finish this mentorship and/or courses, she plans to help them fundraise to put a down payment on the home of their choice.

On why it's so important to have a home or place of refugee as Black trans women, Thomas reflects and says, “if one of us has a home, then we all have one”.

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