The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has proposed new federal regulations that would ban discrimination in housing on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. HUD is now seeking public comment on the proposed new regulations. The new regulations would add lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons as protected classes to federal Fair Housing Policy.
According to the HUD announcement in the Federal Register, “There is evidence that LGBT individuals and families are being arbitrarily excluded from some housing opportunities in the private sector. Through this proposed rule, HUD strives to ensure that its core programs are open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The new rules will help, according to Mindy Barton, director of the Legal & Advocacy Program for the GLBT Community Center of Colorado. “While it doesn’t give a specific cause of action enabling federal lawsuits, it does clarify that there are protections in place,” she says. “Frequently, administrative regulations are the first step in making changes legislatively.”
The proposal cites a 2007 Michigan study that documented that housing seekers posing as gay or lesbian were denied access, quoted higher rates and subjected to “unfavorable treatment and offensive comments.” A report by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force showed that 11 percent of transgender respondents said they’d been evicted because of bias.
“This is terribly important to our community,” says Ken Helander, director of SAGE, the GLBT Community Center’s elders program. The elderly are the most likely of any segment of the LGBT population to need publicly subsidized housing at some point. The new rule will also apply to people with HIV/AIDS seeking housing under the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) program.
“The more protections people in our community have, the better,” says Helander. “This (rule) gives definition to our community as a group who needs those protections.”
HUD also wants to bolster local and state laws banning discrimination by instructing staff to inform applicants about such laws and requiring HUD contractors and grantees to comply with local laws. Colorado has had such protections in place since 2008, and the local HUD office is referring people to the Colorado Civil Rights Division to file complaints.
HUD funding is widespread throughout the housing industry, affecting developers, contractors, public housing and low-income individuals.
The new rule would, first, prohibit lenders from using sexual orientation or gender identity as a basis to determine a borrower’s eligibility for FHA-insured mortgage financing. FHA loans account for one-third of all mortgages nationally.
Second, it makes clear that all eligible families, regardless of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity, have the opportunity to participate in HUD programs. Families cannot be excluded because a member is or is perceived to be lesbian, gay or transgender.
Third, the new rule prohibits owners and operators of HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing from inquiring about the sexual orientation or gender identity of applicants for rental or purchase housing.
Add your voice
The proposed new rule is now in the midst of a 60-day public comment period. To read the proposed rule and/or comment on the rule, go to www.regulations.gov. and type the Docket Number, FR-5359-P-01, to the search function on the page. You will be taken to a page where you can read the rule and enter a comment, as well as read other comments.
All comments must include Docket Number FR-5359-P-01 and title “Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity.”
Individuals can also make comments by mail addressed to Regulations Division, Office of General Counsel, Dept. of Housing & Urban Development, 451 7th St. SW, Room 10276, Washington, D.C. 20410-0500. The deadline for public comments is Mar. 25.