The nation’s housing agency announced a new policy Thursday to provide further assistance to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who file complaints of housing discrimination.
The federal Fair Housing Act, adopted in 1968 and amended in 1988, does not explicitly forbid housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Specifically, it does not allow discrimination in rental, sales and lending based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and familial status, including the presence of children in a household.
Under the new guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), however, the department’s staff are to inform complainants about state and local agencies that do have laws forbidding housing discrimination against LGBT individuals and families.
Twenty states and Washington, D.C., ban housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, according to HUD’s website. Fourteen of those states also specifically ban discrimination based on gender identity or expression. More than 60 individual cities and counties in the country also specifically prohibit such discrimination, HUD said.
Moreover, the new policy treats gender identity discrimination as gender discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.
"Our job to prevent and combat housing discrimination is not complete without addressing 21st century issues. Our fair housing staff will work with state and local civil rights agencies to investigate and refer discrimination cases and work to combat all aspects of gender discrimination." said John Trasviña, assistant secretary for HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, in a statement.
According to the announcement, that means that if a complaint filed by an LGBT individual or family falls under discrimination prohibited under the Fair Housing Act, HUD will retain jurisdiction over the complaint and/or jointly investigate or refer the case to local governments who have additional legal protections.
HUD gave a couple of examples of such cases. If, for example, a man alleges he was evicted because he is gay and his landlord thought he would infect other tenants with HIV, whether or not he has HIV, that landlord could be guilty of discrimination on the basis of disability.
Or, if a prospective female tenant alleges that she was rejected by a landlord because she wears stereotypically masculine clothes or expresses herself in other ways not considered feminine, that could fall under discrimination on the basis of gender.
The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which is part of HUD’s Office of Housing, will also instruct lenders of FHA-insured mortgages that FHA-loan approval "must be based on the creditworthiness of borrowers and not on unrelated factors or characteristics, such as sexual orientation or gender identity," HUD said.
The department also said it would propose new regulations that will clarify that, for the purposes of HUD program eligbility, the term "family" can be used to describe otherwise eligible LGBT individuals and couples in order to "ensure its core housing programs are available to all families, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."??
About a month ago, HUD announced a new requirement that grant applicants for HUD funding comply with state and local LGBT anti-discrimination laws.????????
HUD is also commissioning the first national study of discrimination against LGBT renters and buyers. The department is currently seeking online public comment for the study’s design.