According to a new study, gay couples moving into an area can actually raise housing prices. But only if folks in that area are in favor of gay rights — if not, they have the opposite effect.
BusinessWeek reports on a study of the Columbus, OH area, which found that gay couples moving into an area was associated with an increase in housing values — if people in that area were in favor of gay marriage, as measured by their votes on the 2004 Defense of Marriage Act. If they were against it, then an increase in gay couples actually drove prices down. A previous study by Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander had shown that "gay couples may lift real estate prices by enhancing cultural amenities, housing stock and the vibrancy of neighborhoods." But according to Susane Leguizamon, author of the new study, the opposite can be true: "The perception that there is prejudice against gay and lesbians by conservative groups is strong enough to be picked up in market prices."
In a 2010 Daily Beast piece, Florida explains why the presence of gay couples is correlated with higher property values:
[T]he presence of LGBT people isn't a sufficient condition for wealth creation in and of itself; gay men and lesbians are no more sophisticated, economically productive, innovative, or entrepreneurial than any other group on average. But places that attract gay people and lesbians tend to have the same open-minded attitudes and business styles that foster innovation. A visible LGBT community is the proverbial "canary in the coal mine," signaling openness to new ideas, new business models, and diverse and different thinking kinds of people — precisely the characteristics of a local ecosystem that can attract cutting-edge entrepreneurs and mobilize new companies.
Unfortunately, and probably unsurprisingly for many LGBT folk who have lived in unfriendly places, it seems that more gay couples moving into an area aren't necessarily enough to create the openness Florida describes. Instead of adapting, areas with highly homophobic beliefs appear to lose value when gay couples move in, perhaps suggesting a sort of "straight flight" in which well-heeled homophobes take off for straighter pastures. But if Florida's right, those pastures may actually be hostile to innovation — and wealth. Of course, gentrification carries with it its own set of complications, and affordable housing for gay and straight people alike is a whole 'nother kettle of public policy. But if it's true that a thriving gay community is an important sign of a healthy metropolis, then areas that remain homophobic may remain backward and underdeveloped, too.