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Fair and Inclusive Housing Rights Act introduced
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Fair and Inclusive Housing Rights Act introduced

HUD asks for comments on housing discrimination

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, introduced the Fair and Inclusive Housing Act of 2010 on March 11.

Just hours later, his subcommittee held the first hearings on the measure.

Nadler's bill would amend the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to include a ban on housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, co-sponsored Nadler's legislation.

On March 17, the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) followed suit, announcing a national study on discrimination against LGBT people in the sale and rental of housing.

Leading the study will be Raphael Bostic, HUD assistant secretary for policy development and research.

To facilitate the study, HUD also announced the creation of a website allowing public comment on discrimination in housing. The website can be accessed at portal.hud.gov/portal/page/portal/HUD/LGBT_Discrimination_Study.

In addition to seeking comment on the website, HUD has held a series of town hall meetings to hear accounts of discrimination. Events have taken place in Chicago, San Francisco and New York City.

"The comments we received in our town hall meetings, and those we will gather from this new website, will help inform how we might test for housing discrimination in the sale or rental of housing based on LGBT status," Bostic said.

One of the Johnson administration's landmark civil rights bills, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.

Congress amended the law in 1974 to include protections based on gender. In 1988, it added protections based on disability and family status.

The Fair and Inclusive Housing Act is the third proposed expansion of U.S. civil rights legislation to include the LGBT community.

Sexual orientation and gender identity were included in federal hate crimes protections in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act passed last year.

ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) would add similar protections to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act applying to workplace discrimination. ENDA is now awaiting markup by the House Education and Labor Committee.

"Housing discrimination remains a persistent problem in our country," Nadler said in his opening remarks to the subcommittee hearing. "While we would like to think that housing discrimination is an artifact of the past, we know it is not."

"Discrimination [in housing] on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity are perfectly legal in many areas, and people are regularly denied a place to live simply because of that status," Nadler said.

Among those testifying at the initial hearing on the measure was NGTLF Executive Director Rea Carey.

In her testimony, Carey cited preliminary findings of an NGLTF survey on discrimination against Transgender people, showing that 11% of Transgender respondents reported being evicted and 19% reported becoming homeless due to incidents of discrimination.

"For us, the pursuit of the American dream, including home ownership, is a risky proposition," she said. "When our sexual orientation or gender identity is known, either because we offer it willingly or a landlord, realtor or lender is made aware by other means, there is potential for outright hostility, property damage, and even physical violence.

"Studies show that in renting apartments, when callers described themselves as Gay or Lesbian, apartments are more likely to be described as unavailable."

Other witnesses included Shanna Smith, president of the National Fair Housing Alliance; Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Kenneth Marcus, visiting professor of Baruch College School of Public Affairs; John Relman, founder and director of Relman & Dane; and Okianer Christian Dark, an associate dean and professor of law at the Howard University School of Law.

After the hearing, the NGLTF's Carey told reporters she expected the bill to win broad support in the House.

"We're very pleased that [Nadler] introduced this today and, with our testimony and the support of others, we hope it gains momentum," she said. "There are a number of members of Congress who will be quite supportive of this."

Additional hearings on the Fair and Inclusive Housing Act are expected before it will be reported out for a floor vote.

As yet, there is no companion bill in the Senate.

Nadler - who represents a district which includes Greenwich Village, Chelsea, and the Upper West Side, as well as a section of Brooklyn - has been a longtime ally of the LGBT community.

On September 15, 2009 he introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA. He is also the prime sponsor of the Freedom of Choice Act protecting reproductive choice.

He is a co-sponsor of ENDA and the Military Readiness Enhancement Act to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

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