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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 04
Section One
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New HUD rules protect LGBT renters and homebuyers

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced new rules banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in its core housing programs.

The new rules will affect some 4.4 million units of housing across the country.

The new rules say that:

o Families who are otherwise eligible for HUD programs may not be excluded because one or more family members are LGBT individuals, have an LGBT relationship, or are perceived as LGBT or in an LGBT relationship.

o Owners and operators of HUD-assisted or HUD-financed housing may not ask about applicants' sexual orientation or gender identity.

o Lenders may not use sexual orientation or gender identity as a basis to determine eligibility for FHA mortgages.

The new policies would apply to HUD's rental assistance and home ownership programs, including FHA mortgage insurance programs, community development programs, and public and assisted housing programs.

FHA mortgages represent one-third of all new mortgages in the country.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan called the move 'a fundamental issue of fairness' and said, in a press briefing, that he wants HUD to be a 'leader' in the fight for LGBT equality, as it has been in other civil rights battles.

The new HUD rules must go through a 60-day period of public comment before the final versions are published.

The date of publication for the final rules will depend upon the volume of comments received, but is expected by the end of 2011, a HUD spokesperson said.

The new rules fulfill a promise made by HUD last October, to revise its policies as part of a series of measures addressing housing discrimination against LGBT people.

In July 2010, HUD announced a 'clarification' of existing policy relating to the Fair Housing Act.

While that law does not specifically cover discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity, HUD said, it may still cover them in other ways.

For example, gender-identity discrimination may be seen as sex discrimination, or discrimination against a same-sex couple may be treated as discrimination on the basis of family status.

HUD has also instructed its 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.

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 D.C. have protections specific to gender identity.

Approximately 150 cities, towns, and counties have LGBT protections as well, according to HUD.

Washington state law includes gender identity as part of the category of sexual orientation, for the purpose of protecting LGBT people against discrimination in housing as well as other facets of life.

Both King County and the City of Seattle have fair housing ordinances that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

No national studies have been done to document discrimination in housing against LGBT persons, but HUD is now preparing a national study to fill this gap.

The agency collected input for the study last year via a national listening tour and online submissions. A HUD spokesperson said the target date for reporting findings is late 2012.

HUD may additionally include LGBT discrimination in its decennial study of housing discrimination, which has, in the past, looked at racial- and ethnic-based discrimination.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) introduced the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act in the last session of the 111th Congress.

The HOME Act would amend the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, source of income, or marital status in the sale, rental, financing, or brokerage of housing.

The bill would also expand the Fair Housing Act's definition of 'familial status' to include 'anyone standing in loco parentis' to a minor - thus providing protection to same-sex couples and other families where one parent may not be legally recognized.

Individuals seeking redress under the Fair Housing Act would be allowed to bring a lawsuit in federal district court or file an administrative complaint with HUD.

Prospects for passing such legislation in the new Republican-controlled 112th Congress are not bright, however.

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