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Commentary

Terrible Takes: Axios Implies Alleged LGBT ‘Homebuying Barrier’ Due to Discrimination

June 17, 2024

In a Saturday article published under the topic of “real estate,” Axios reporter Brianna Crane claimed that “the homebuying barrier is higher for LGBTQ+ people than their cisgender and/or straight counterparts.” By arranging an assortment of data to mask their lack of explanatory power, Crane attempted to bolster the preferred, political narrative of “LGBTQ+” victimhood. The data doesn’t back up the narrative.

Before examining the meat of Axios’s argument in detail, it’s important to understand how and why this article came to be written. Articles like this don’t come out of nowhere.

How It Came About

Crane cited a November 2023 study by the Urban Institute, which found the homeownership rate is 20 percentage points lower among people who identify as LGBTQ+ than among people who do not (more on this later). The Urban Institute, in turn, relied on data collected in the Household Pulse Survey, conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census Bureau first “included questions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) on it’s Household Pulse Survey” in July 2021, as part of the Biden administration’s whole-of-government push to promote the LGBT agenda.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is.

To understand why, consider this story about a drunken man searching for something under a streetlight. A policeman approached and asked him what he lost. “My keys,” the man replied. To get the man off the street more quickly, the officer kindly dropped to his knees and assisted in the search. After about 15 fruitless minutes, the police officer asked, “Are you sure you dropped your keys here?” “Oh no,” the drunk replied, “I lost them in the park.” “Well then why are you searching under the streetlight?” queried the policeman, now a bit annoyed. “The light is better here,” replied the drunk.

Political scientists are notoriously easy marks for the “Streetlight Effect,” as my grad school professors warned. Instead of discerning the true cause of a political or social phenomenon, researchers are often tempted to explore whatever data is easy to collect. And when a government agency has already collected high quality data on a massive scale — well, that’s the easiest source there is. (The researcher’s tendency to take the path of least resistance is due not just to laziness, but also to the perverse incentives created by the constant industry pressure to keep publishing new research as quickly as possible.)

Thus, the types of data collected by the Census Bureau determines, at least in part, the types of questions that political scientists will ask and answer. If the government starts asking questions about sexual orientation and gender identity, more researchers will explore those categories, in research projects of varying quality and credibility.

Axios’s article, the Urban Institute’s study, and others like them are foreseeable consequences of the Census Bureau’s 2021 change in data collection. I would argue that they are the consequences intended by the Biden administration when they made the change.

By contrast, the Census Bureau does not collect demographic or census data on religious affiliation, meaning fewer researchers will pursue this as a topic of study.

Why It Came About

The reason why this article was written — and why it was written now — is likely simpler to explain. Any pro-LGBT angle is a preferred narrative for left-leaning, mainstream news organizations, and they are always on the lookout for virtue-signaling points. This is especially true in the month of June, which LGBT activists have commandeered as their own Pride Month — to distinguish from the notable humility they display in the other 11 months.

It seems that the demand for LGBT stories during Pride Month was at least part of the prompt for this story. Either on her own initiative or at the prompting of an editor or supervisor, Axios’s real estate reporter went looking for an LGBT angle to real estate. After some digging, Crane found this eight-month-old study by the Urban Institute. This passed the (low) minimum bar for running an LGBT-angled real estate story in Pride Month, and that’s why this article was written and published.

What It Claims

Now for the actual substance of Crane’s piece. She compiles the following facts: 1) “LGBTQ+ homeownership rate is 20 percentage points lower” than for non-LGBT+ Americans; 2) “people need to earn $150,000 to afford the typical home in LGBTQ+-friendly areas like D.C.”; 3) D.C. home prices are “nearly 50% higher than areas without LGBTQ+ protections”; and 4) D.C. is “relatively affordable” with an even greater “gap between median incomes and income needed to afford the typical home” in “other metros with large LGBTQ+ populations” like San Francisco ($223,000+)!

Only the first of these facts concern people who identify as LGBT as a group. The rest of the facts simply demonstrate that home prices are expensive, and that they are especially — even outlandishly — expensive in certain major urban areas.

But this neutral data is not presented as neutral. Instead, the Axios reporter argues that they constitute a higher “homebuying barrier” to people who identify as LGBTQ+ than they do to other people. As proof that this is happening, she presents the fact that the homeownership rate for people who identify as LGBTQ+ is 20 percentage points lower than for other people.

The most important question, of course, is whether there is a causal link between higher urban home prices and fewer LGBT-identifying people owning homes. Crane suggests that there is — namely, the victimhood status of people who identify as LGBT. First, “income inequality is partly to blame, especially for trans people of color, research shows,” she writes (more on this later).

Secondly, she described the fears of LGBT-identifying people confronting the “scary” homebuying process. One lesbian-identifying couple in the D.C. area was so afraid of “local government harassment” that, when they bought a house together, only one partner put down her name, Crane shared. She added that “states with relatively affordable housing” like Kentucky “may not be safe for the LGBTQ+ communities” because “the ACLU is tracking 14 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the state currently” (more on this later).

Crane’s argument points toward certain policy solutions, although the precise nature of the solution is open-ended. It could be used to generally condemn LGBT discrimination. It could be used to condemn states that have taken less action to explicitly protect people who identity as LGBT from discrimination. It could be used to urge pro-LGBT officials in large cities to enact more pro-LGBT protections, or even to offer special benefits and subsidies to first-time homebuyers if they identify as LGBT. At its very best, it could urge large cities to pursue pro-growth policies that ease the cost of homebuying.

What It Really Shows

The true takeaways from the Axios article are quite a bit different from those Crane implied. First and foremost, the facts she assembled demonstrate that homebuying is expensive right now — for everyone. If people need an annual income of $150,000 in the D.C. area, and that’s roughly 50% higher than “areas without LGBTQ+ protections,” then people would need to earn $100,000 annually to afford a typical home in those relatively affordable areas. Median household income in 2022 was $74,580, and real personal income in 2022 was $40,480.

There are multiple reasons why homebuying is more expensive right now, but the high interest rate is a major contributing factor. Unless someone has the spare cash to purchase a new home outright, their ability to afford that home depends upon their monthly mortgage payment. Interest rates have nearly doubled since 2022, meaning that families would have to pay a much larger mortgage payment, even if the ticket price of the home remained constant.

Secondly, Crane shows that homebuying is more expensive in large cities. This is an obvious, well-known phenomenon (“location, location, location”), which should not shock a real estate reporter (in fact, Crane admits that larger cities “often” have “higher costs of living”). Essentially, as more people live (or work, and therefore want to live) in a given place, the supply of land remains constant while demand increases, making the land more expensive. Cities compensate for a scarcity of land with smaller lots, smaller houses, or more “efficient” forms of housing (in terms of resident per square foot of land) like apartments and condominiums.

Even still, these inferior dwellings can become more expensive than more spacious houses further away from the city, simply because the demand for space there is so high (in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, where many well-to-do members of Congress sleep while in session, tiny “rowhouses” on less than a tenth of an acre routinely sell for more than $1 million).

Due to the cost (and scarcity) of homes in large cities, many city-dwellers never own a home. Many choose to rent; some lack the means to make an exorbitant downpayment, while others may prefer the convenience of apartment living. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who certainly could afford a home if he wanted one, tweeted on Sunday that his family “has lived in an apartment building for all our years.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2017, 81.1% of rural Americans owned a home, compared to 59.8% of urban Americans.

The basic economics that make urban houses more expensive do not discriminate against people who identify as LGBT. They apply equally to all people who desire to live in a densely crowded urban center. Of course, it is true that people who identify as LGBT are concentrated in urban areas. But so are other demographics — Jews, for instance. Crane did not write an article about how Jews were unfairly impacted by soaring house-buying costs.

As for why some cities are more expensive than others, there are two possible sets of explanations: geographic and political. Some cities, most famously New York City, find their growth hampered by geographic barriers, such as waters and mountains. Thus, San Francisco and Los Angeles are pinned along the rocky California coast, while Houston or Atlanta can continue to sprawl as far as they please.

However, some cities make their housing more expensive than it needs to be through imprudent policies. Rent control, organized labor, a difficult permitting process, and stringent environmental rules all increase the cost of new housing, thus hindering the housing supply’s ability to keep up with demand.

Finally, Crane’s article demonstrates that large cities are already pursuing her implied policy solutions — without success. Larger cities already “tend to offer more LGBTQ+ protections,” she admitted. Yet LGBT-identifying homebuyers still show a serious — some might argue unwarranted — concern for their physical safety. How many protections does someone need to not be a victim?

Contrast this with Louisville, Ky., where Crane suggested LGBT-identifying people would feel unsafe because the legislature was considering “anti-LGBTQ+” bills. The ACLU is (or was) tracking 14 bills in the 2024 Kentucky legislative session. These include bills dealing with religious exemptions, parental rights in schools, and defining sex. According to the ACLU, all 14 bills were “defeated,” which means the Republican-controlled legislature did not consider any of them important enough to pass before the legislative session ended on April 15. These bills did not threaten the physical safety of people who identify as LGBT, nor do any state laws (except for the California law reducing the penalty for knowingly infecting someone with HIV).

If an LGBT-identifying person in Kentucky feels unsafe, perhaps they can use their substantial savings on housing to buy a high-quality security fence and a handgun for personal protection.

Additionally, larger cities already subsidize the lifestyles of LGBT-identifying residents. Crane recorded that D.C. has allocated millions of dollars in its proposed 2025 budget “to support local LGBTQ+ communities,” including a regional hub that will offer them services “from counseling to yoga and meditation classes and free hot meals.” How much favoritism does it take to put them on an equal footing?

Where It Goes Wrong

Ultimately, where Crane’s argument breaks down is that it compares apples to oranges — as the Urban Institute study does too.

Consider the initial fact that served to ground Crane’s investigation with the appearance of legitimacy: home ownership rates are 20 percentage points lower among people who identify as LGBT. The crucial question to explaining this fact is: why is homeownership lower among people who identify as LGBT?

The only place Crane came close to answering this question is when she wrote, “income inequality is partly to blame, especially for trans people of color, research shows.” In context, the statement gives the mistaken impression that “trans people” suffer the most from income inequality, and therefore are least likely to own their own home, especially if they are also “people of color.”

This is not what the research shows. In fact, black, Hispanic, and “other” people who identified as transgender or non-binary had higher rates of ownership than those who identified as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer,” while white and Asian people who identified as transgender had the largest drop-off. In fact, the largest race-differentiated disparity came between non-LGBT white people (where 77% own homes) to trans-identifying white people (where 50% own homes). This decline of 27 percentage points is significantly larger than the 15-percentage-point drop between the corresponding identities among blacks. This discrepancy is clear from the image Axios created to head Crane’s article, but it was not reflected in her reporting; it would be too uncomfortably sideways to the standard narrative.

In fairness to Crane, her statement appears to rely upon a misreading of the Urban Institute’s claim that intersectionality created a “double disadvantage” — how excitingly politically correct. Controlling for other factors, they wrote, “people who are Black and cisgender are 16 percentage points less likely to own their home compared with white and cisgender people, and this gap increases to 22 percentage points for people who are Black and transgender or nonbinary.” If that’s true, then race is a 2.5 times larger factor in homeownership. Why didn’t she write an article about that?

This single poor explanation still leaves Crane’s readers in the dark about what really explains the homeownership discrepancy.

The most significant factor to explain this discrepancy is age. “Age accounts for about half of the difference in homeownership rates by sexual orientation and gender identity,” wrote the Urban Institute. “LGBTQ+ people are much younger than the rest of the population, which results in less time to have built wealth and strong credit scores.” Why did the Axios report, based on this article, leave out the most important reason? To drive a political narrative.

It’s not difficult to imagine other factors that would explain away the discrepancy in home ownership — if they were considered in the study:

  • People who identify as LGBT also have a higher incidence of mental health issues. Thus, they have additional medical expenses and trouble advancing in their careers, which further hinder wealth accumulation. For young adults with serious mental health issues, who are lucky enough to have loving families, living with their parents could provide an attractive alternative to purchasing their own home.
  • People who identify as LGBT do not hold to a biblical view of marriage, with its emphasis on monogamy and lifelong faithfulness. The Urban Institute records that people who identify as LGBT enjoy a smaller economic bounce from marriage, further hindering wealth accumulation.
  • Connected to this ambivalence toward marriage, people who identify as LGBT are more likely to remain single for longer. A single person has less need for homeownership, as their needs can be more easily supplied in an apartment, even an apartment whose costs and quarters are shared with roommates. A married family unit would find it much more difficult to share an apartment with non-family members.
  • People who identify as LGBT are less likely to place a high priority on home ownership. There is certainly a strain of LGBT culture that focuses on self-fulfillment and self-actualization. For a young single person, this can often mean dwelling near a city center, with access to community centers, a vibrant nightlife, an expanding social network, and opportunities for travel. By contrast, many young singles who are not LGBT desire to get married and start a family. This can prompt them to sacrifice the fun of the city center for the stability, security, and affordability of a modest home in the suburbs.

These hypothetical reasons are generalizations. The LGBT “community” is a misnomer, as it is far from monolithic. Likewise, many young, non-LGBT people will also value the single, city-dwelling lifestyle. However, I suggest that there is a real nugget of truth in each of these reasons, which would contribute at least some explanatory value if someone cared to look. And others could easily be added to this list.

The point is, demographic rates of homeownership are a complex issue with lots of social, economic, and political factors at play. One cannot simply wave the magic wand of wokeness and chalk the whole controversy up to discrimination or intersectionality. Even if one could, that would direct the blame onto the poor governance of large cities, which exacerbates housing costs, instead of more conservative jurisdictions that still value freedom for all.

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.