When Housing Discrimination Is Acceptable

*When Housing Discrimination Is Acceptable*
**By Phil Hall**

new-PhilH***During the past few weeks, there was a surplus amount of media attention focused on the subject of same-sex marriage. However, far less attention was given to a parallel issue: the question of housing discrimination against same-sex couples.

****Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) quietly released a report that was billed as “the first large-scale, paired-testing study to assess housing discrimination against same-sex couples in metropolitan rental markets via advertisements on the Internet.” The test was based on 6,833 e-mail correspondence tests conducted in 50 metropolitan markets between June and October 2011. Although HUD never explained why it took nearly two years for the results of the test to be made public, the end result was, according to a statement issued by the department, “same-sex couples experience less favorable treatment than heterosexual couples in the online rental housing market.”

****It’s not much better for same-sex couples in the purchase market. Only about 20 states plus the District of Columbia and more than 150 municipalities and counties have laws that clearly prohibit housing discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population. This means that housing discrimination against LGBT Americans is perfectly legal throughout the vast majority of the country.

****So what is the Obama Administration doing about this? At the moment, there appears to be a pair of contradictory policies at play.

****One policy is firmly rooted at HUD, where Secretary Shaun Donovan (operating without the need for congressional approval) expanded the department’s operating procedures last year with a rule that mandates the owners and operators of HUD-assisted or -insured housing make housing available without consideration to an applicant’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This rule covers Federal Housing Administration mortgage insurance programs as well as HUD’s public and assisted housing programs.

****Also, the rule prevents the owners and operators of HUD-assisted or -insured housing from excluding eligible families from consideration based on the presence of an LGBT individual or relationship within that family.

****“The Obama Administration has viewed the fight for equality on behalf of the LGBT community as a priority and I’m proud that HUD has been a leader in that fight,” said Donovan when the rule was enacted in February 2012.

****Well, Donovan was not entirely correct with that comment, and that is where the other Obama policy picks up.

****The HUD rule has no power beyond the department’s realm of authority. To ensure that LGBT Americans are not the victims of housing discrimination, the Fair Housing Act would need to be updated. But so far, neither Donovan nor his Oval Office boss has made any public effort to push for this legislation to be amended on behalf of the LGBT community.

****However, there are some people in Washington who are willing to fight the good fight. Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) in the House of Representatives have recently introduced the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act, which is designed to amend the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, the financing of housing and in brokerage services based on sexual orientation and gender identity; the bill also includes source of income and marital status. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

****Nadler had introduced similar legislation before, when the Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, but it went nowhere. It couldn’t even find a niche within the 2,300-page Dodd-Frank Act – a fairly remarkable oversight, considering that law was co-authored by America’s most prominent openly gay politician.

****Conyers has framed this new bill as a natural extension of the struggle for civil rights that has reshaped the country for more than a half-century. “We can’t win the fight for equal housing opportunities without the HOME Act and its greater protections against housing discrimination,” he said.

****Yes, but the fight for equality – whether in housing or any aspect of daily society – can only be achieved if there is genuine leadership advocating and lobbying for the cause. It is ridiculous to expect this leadership to percolate through Congress – heck, Capitol Hill can’t even agree on a benign farm bill.

****Instead, the leadership needs to emanate from the White House – and it is not happening. While Donovan’s efforts within the narrow HUD niche deserve commendation, the silence from the Obama Administration on expanding the Fair Housing Act is the political equivalent of slamming a door in the face of LGBT Americans – a demographic that overwhelmingly supported Obama’s re-election last year. I guess that’s the Obama version of saying, “You’re welcome!” to disenfranchised people who put their faith in his big talk about equality.