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Monday, April 18, 2011

The Way Home

By Chris Geidner -

Today, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a series of ads promoting equal opportunity in housing that will run throughout the year and include Facebook ads, targeted print ads, digital videos, and podcasts as part of its new "Live Free" campaign.

Among them will be ads focused specifically at sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in housing -- issues at the center of a new federal rule proposed by HUD in January.

The step is just the latest in a series of actions taken by HUD to include LGBT issues throughout the agency and its programs. In fact, HUD confirmed to Metro Weekly that it is in the process of reviewing the more than 366 comments to the new agency rule that could have a dramatic impact on sexual orientation and gender identity housing nondiscrimination.

Of the efforts, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity John Trasviña said in a release, "While 20 states and over 200 local governments have led the way to make LGBT-related housing discrimination illegal, HUD is firmly committed to supporting the right of LGBT individuals and families to lead productive and dignified lives, free from housing discrimination and fear of retaliation."

Trasviña added, "HUD is finalizing a federal rule to ensure that HUD housing and programs are open to all, irrespective of marital status, gender identify, and sexual orientation."

The rule, the public comment period for which just closed on March 25, would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in several of the federal agency’s programs -- from government-backed mortgages to public housing.

HUD spokeswoman Shantae Goodloe told Metro Weekly that the number of comments were received regarding the proposed rule is typical of the number of comments received for agency rules. The comments are now being reviewed by the agency, which will determine if there are ways the rule should be adjusted. Then, the final rule published and it will go into effect.

Most notably, the proposed rules would prohibit lenders from using sexual orientation or gender identity as a basis to determine a borrower’s eligibility for Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insured mortgage financing. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said at the time the rules were proposed that they would clarify that "the term ’family’ includes LGBT families and couples" as covered individuals and families in all HUD programs.

In a comment submitted by Hutson Inniss on behalf of the National Coalition for LGBT Health, the group wrote of the larger impact of the proposed housing rules.

"Housing is important to the LGBT community from the perspectives both of public health and of human rights. Housing is not a privilege - it is a basic necessity," according to the group’s comments. "Stable and affordable housing is a major component of the built environment that supports positive health outcomes, including reducing homelessness, reducing substance use, reducing risk of HIV transmission, and improving mental health for individuals and families."

Christopher Norris, submitting comments on behalf of the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership (MBHP), for example, noted how the proposed HUD rule "would be consistent with the Massachusetts civil rights law" and wrote, "We have seen how the Massachusetts anti-discrimination law provides equal access to housing opportunity for persons regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. MBHP supports HUD’s action to offer similar protections and benefits to these populations on the federal level."

HUD, under Donovan’s leadership, has advanced multiple efforts to increase the agency’s ability to address LGBT issues. For example, agency guidance in 2010 on addressing complaints of LGBT housing discrimination -- which is not directly covered by the Fair Housing Act -- appears to have resulted in an increase in the agency’s knowledge regarding incidents of such claimed discrimination.

According to HUD, "From July 1, 2010 to February 28, 2011, LGBT individuals filed 47 complaints of housing discrimination alleging gender discrimination with HUD. During the same period straddling 2009 and 2010 prior to issuance of the guidance, HUD only received 3 such complaints."

HUD notes, "While sexual orientation and gender identity are not prohibited bases of discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act, housing discrimination against someone who is LGBT may, in certain circumstances, violate the Act’s existing provisions, including its prohibition against gender discrimination."

The proposed rule, however, would nonetheless expand the reach of sexual orientation and gender identity protections without changing that law because, as Donovan said in January, the "[Federal Housing Administration] represents one-third of all mortgages in this country." HUD officials clarified that this would mean that private lenders seeking to issue FHA-insured loans would be required to follow the new rules.

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