On Tuesday, June 18th, 2013, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the first nationwide study on discrimination in housing markets against lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans. The HUD study did not address discrimination due to gender identity. There is currently no federal protection against sexual orientation discrimination in housing. The Fair Housing Act currently only protects against discrimination based on race, color, sex, familial status or disability. However, 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws protecting against housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The study just released, An Estimate of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples, was based on almost 7,000 email correspondence tests conducted in fifty metropolitan areas across the country. In each test, a prospective seller or landlord received email inquiries from both a same-sex couple and an opposite-sex couple and the tests were evenly divided between males and females. The seller or landlord’s response was then noted as positive or negative. The study showed that same-sex couples receive significantly fewer responses to email inquiries about advertised housing units than opposite-sex couples do. Interestingly, in jurisdictions with state-level anti-discrimination laws, the housing inquiry emails of same-sex couples actually received fewer responses. This could be due to several factors, such as low enforcement, anti-discrimination laws existing where they are most needed, or simply housing providers’ lack of familiarity with the protections provided, but more research into this area is definitely needed.
HUD has recently shown itself to be a defender of the LGBT community, making new rules granting equal access to housing in HUD programs – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This, while welcome, is limited in scope, and this study clearly shows that federal protections are sorely needed. The Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act, first introduced in the 111th Congress, would provide that by adding sexual orientation and gender identity as classes protected from discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. The HOME Act would ensure that same-sex families are secure in their ability to put a roof over their head. As we await two possibly monumental decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, it is important to remember that there is still a lot of work to be done.