|HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan|
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced Friday, April 8, that it is launching a national media campaign to promote equal access to housing regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, among other characteristics. And new data shows a marked increase in the number of LGBT housing discrimination complaints filed under existing law.
The ad campaign is the latest in a series of moves HUD has made to address discrimination against LGBT people or those perceived to be.
The new campaign, “Live Free,” will run throughout the year and include “Facebook ads, targeted print ads, digital videos, and podcasts,” according to a HUD press release.
One print ad asks, “Should Gender Stereotypes Influence Where You Live?” and directs people to learn more about HUD’s LGBT initiatives at HUD’s Fair Housing Web site, www.hud.gov/fairhousing.
Last July, HUD issued a clarification of existing policy, stating that, although the Fair Housing Act—a pivotal civil rights act that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status—does not specifically cover sexual orientation- or gender identity-based discrimination, it may still cover it in other ways. For example, gender-identity discrimination may be seen as sex discrimination.
Since that guidance was issued, the number of complaints from LGBT individuals to HUD about housing discrimination has increased, according to HUD. From July 1, 2010 to February 28, 2011, LGBT individuals filed 47 complaints of gender-based housing discrimination. During the same date range in 2009 and 2010, before the guidance was issued, there were only three such complaints.
No national study has quantified how many LGBT people have faced housing discrimination, although several smaller studies and examples have indicated pervasive discrimination, especially against transgender people and LGBT seniors.
HUD has been preparing a national study to fill this gap, with a target date for reporting findings in late 2012. It may also include LGBT discrimination in its decennial study of housing discrimination, which has, in the past, looked at racial- and ethnic-based discrimination, according to a HUD spokesperson.
HUD has also instructed staff to inform individuals about state and local LGBT protections that may apply to them. And HUD has told its grant applicants—who seek a total of $3.25 billion in federal funding—they must comply with such state and local laws, where they exist.
Additionally, in January 2011, HUD announced a proposed new rule intended to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in its core housing programs—programs that impact 4.4 million units of housing in the country.
The proposed rule would prohibit owners and operators of HUD-assisted or -financed housing from inquiring about applicants’ sexual orientation or gender identity, and prevent them from excluding otherwise eligible families if one or more members is or is perceived to be LGBT. It would also prevent lenders from using sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant as a basis to determine eligibility for Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgages, which represent one-third of all new mortgages in the country.
A period for public comment on the proposed rule closed on March 25, with nearly 370 comments submitted. HUD must now review them and create the final rule, which a HUD spokeperson said would likely happen by the end of the calendar year.
Many comments on the HUD rule simply expressed support—including a letter representing the 1.1 million members of the National Association of Realtors.
Other comments included specific suggestions. Maya Rupert, Federal Policy Attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, urged “a more explicit definition of who qualifies as a ‘child’ in the definition of ‘family’” under the rule. Rupert suggested specifying “biological or adopted children, stepchildren, children for whom anyone in the family is standing in loco parentis, and foster children,” thus providing protection to families where one parent may not be legally recognized as such.
And several commenters, including Kristina Wertz of the Transgender Law Center, suggested modifying the proposed rule to clarify that housing providers “may only inquire about an individual’s gender identity for the purpose of placing them in a gender- specific accommodation,” but not “regarding a person’s birth sex, anatomy or medical history.”
There are currently no explicit federal protections that ban housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Twenty states plus the District of Columbia have housing protections specific to sexual orientation, and 13 states plus the District have protections specific to gender identity. Approximately 150 cities, towns, and counties have LGBT protections as well, according to HUD.
At the end of the last session of Congress, Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) introduced the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act, which would amend the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination in housing, not just HUD housing, on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, source of income, or marital status. Individuals seeking redress under the Fair Housing Act may bring a lawsuit in federal district court or file an administrative complaint with HUD.
The bill would also expand the Fair Housing Act’s definition of “familial status” to include “anyone standing in loco parentis” to a minor.
A spokesperson for Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Nadler hopes to reintroduce the bill “soon,” although he did not have an exact date.
With Republican control of the House this session, however, Nadler lost his chairmanship of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. The new chair for the renamed Subcommittee on the Constitution is Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). Trent received a 0 percent score from the Human Rights Campaign for each of the past two Congresses, indicating he never voted in favor of legislation to further LGBT equality.