Did you know that in most states it is still legal to deny someone housing or rental services based on their sexual orientation or gender identity?
In October last year the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) announced that it would examine and alter its own policies to help combat the problem of housing discrimination that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) home seekers face.
After a long wait, the first of these changes was announced on Monday.
The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development has implemented a policy change requiring grant applicants to comply with local non-discrimination laws against LGBT people.
On Monday, the department announced the change as part of the notice of funding availability for its fiscal year 2010 discretionary programs, which provides interested applicants with information on requirements for receiving grants.
“If the applicant’s state or local government has passed a law or laws proscribing discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity, or a law or laws proscribing discrimination based on lawful source of income, the applicant and any proposed subrecipients must comply with those laws,” the notice states.
Previously, applicants had been required to conform with the Fair Housing Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, but were not made to comply with local anti-discrimination measures on sexual orientation or gender identity (though they were of course vulnerable if they were found to be violating such laws). In future, the “minimum threshold” used to screen potential applicants for federal assistance will now also include adherence to local and state level nondiscrimination policies concerning sexual orientation and gender identity, a first for the HUD.
Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, said that this announcement marks an “important step” for the department, highlighting that “those who seek federal funding must demonstrate that they are meeting local and state civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity” and that with this policy change HUD was “using every avenue to shut the door against discrimination.”
This is the first change to be enacted by HUD since it announced in October that it would begin examining its policies to try to combat anti-LGBT housing discrimination.
Other policy changes that are still being waited on include new regulations clarifying the term “family” so as to ensure that LGBT individuals and families who meet all the other criteria for HUD programs are thereafter eligible and recognized.
Furthermore, there are two other key areas in which HUD have said they will make changes. From the HUD press release:
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will also instruct its lending community that FHA-insured mortgage loans must be based on the credit-worthiness of borrowers and not on unrelated factors or characteristics such as sexual orientation or gender identity. Finally, HUD will commission the first-ever national study of discrimination against members of the LGBT community in the rental and sale of housing. The Department is currently seeking online public comment from interested parties in how it might design this new study.
In addition, HUD will provide enhanced customer services for members of the public who bring fair housing complaints to the Department’s attention on the basis of LGBT status. Specifically, in places where state or local laws already prohibit LGBT-related housing discrimination, intake staff in HUD’s Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity will ensure these complaints are directed to the appropriate state and local anti-discrimination offices. HUD intake staff also will be trained to identify any allegations over which HUD has existing authority under the Fair Housing Act, such as HIV/AIDS-related discrimination, that may be considered grounds for enforcement action based on the law’s current protections (i.e., against disability discrimination).
The Human Rights Campaign has welcomed Monday’s announcement, but also notes that this policy change still leaves LGBTs vulnerable to housing discrimination where there are no express state-level or local protections:
While this is a positive and welcome step, the majority of LGBT Americans do not live in jurisdictions with laws protecting them from housing discrimination. HUD cannot change that fact – Congress must act to expand federal fair housing law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. As we told you in March, after holding a hearing on expanding fair housing protections, Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, introduced the Fair and Inclusive Housing Rights Act of 2010, H.R. 4820, a bill that would do just that. Congressmen Edolphus Towns (D-NY) and Joe Sestak (D-PA) have also introduced measures that would address LGBT housing discrimination. We hope Congress will follow the lead of HUD and these congressional leaders on LGBT equality and act to extend this basic, yet crucial, protection for our community and our families.
The Fair and Inclusive Housing Rights Act mentioned above has been referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties in April of this year, where it remains. The Housing Nondiscrimination Act of 2010, which would amend the Fair Housing Act to prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit such discrimination in public accommodations and public facilities, has been referred to the same committee.
For readers interested in finding out more about the aforementioned HUD public consultation and the housing discrimination study, please click here.
Read more: civil rights, fair housing act, gay rights, gender identity discrimination, housing discrimination, housing non discrimination, hud, lgbt rights, nondiscrimination, sexual orientation discrimination
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