Protecting housing opportunities has always been a primary mission of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. While the Fair Housing Act and its amendments prohibit discriminatory practices which impede access to housing, problems still exist. Since 2012, HUD has made it clear that it prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status, and that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, or the perception of such, in practice.
Why address LGBTQ housing discrimination?
Several recent studies have shown significant levels of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity across the US. The size and geographical location of the city or town didn’t seem to play a factor in the levels of discrimination, as rates of unfair treatment remained largely the same. In one study, 26 percent of landlords sampled showed distinct preferential treatment toward perceived heterosexual couples over same-sex couples without knowing anything about either couple other than names. In the same test, many of the same-sex couple testers were also subjected to offensive comments. Another study revealed that housing instability among transgender individuals is also a concern: 19 percent of individuals surveyed reported being refused a house or apartment because of gender identity. A third study found that housing discrimination rates did not improve when local ordinances were in place to try to address the issue.
Application to Fair Lending Practices & Housing Assistance
Equal access also applies to any programs that are funded or insured by HUD and to FHA loans.
The Equal Access Rule states that a “determination of eligibility for housing that is assisted by HUD or subject to a mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Administration shall be made in accordance with the eligibility requirements provided for such program by HUD, and such housing shall be made available without regard to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.”
In practice, that means that equal access must be granted in HUD programs, including public housing, Section 8 project-based or tenant-based housing, FHA-insured loans, and housing funded under the Community Development Block Grant, Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS, Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly (202), and Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities.
In addition to the equal access and definitional provisions, the LGBT Equal Access Rule prohibits inquiries “about the sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant for, or occupant of HUD-assisted housing or housing whose financing is insured by HUD, whether renter- or owner-occupied, for the purposes of determining eligibility for the housing or otherwise making such housing available.”
Specifically, an FHA approved lender cannot refuse a federally insured mortgage to a same-sex couple who is not married but is otherwise eligible.
Like all Fair Housing regulations, it’s important to keep in mind that people have a right to choose where they live. It’s up to us as Realtors to guide our clients to ensure that federal guidelines are being met when they screen tenants. It’s our responsibility to advertise fairly and respond to inquiries equally.
If you want to know more about the work being done to reduce homeownership barriers facing the LGBTQ community, contact the Gay and Lesbian Organization of Real Estate (GALORE) at facebook.com/Galore.