In mid-June, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the results of its national study which examined the existence of housing discrimination against same-sex couples within the private rental market. Entitled, An Estimate of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples, the study was the result of 6,833 e-mail correspondence tests gathered in 50 metro markets from June through October 2011.
For the purpose of the study, rental listings were gathered from online sources. Two separate e-mails inquiring about the availability of an advertised residential rental unit were sent to each property owner or manager. For each pair of tests, one came from either a male or female same-sex couple and the other from a heterosexual couple. This system was created to measure the levels of discriminatory treatment towards same-sex couples that are seeking rental properties online.
The HUD study revealed that same-sex couples are routinely treated unfairly in comparison to heterosexual couples. Among the same-sex group, the male couples were discriminated against more than the female couples. It also came to light that:
- The same-sex couples did not receive as many responses to their e-mail inquiries as opposed to the heterosexual couples.
- In states with protective legislation already in place towards this type of discrimination, it was found that the treatment of same-sex couples was worse than in states where sexual orientation discrimination laws do not exist.
- The size of the metro market did not correlate with the rate of unfair treatment however, for same-sex couples, it was experienced in all 50 metro areas included in the study.
The results of the study are disturbing considering that The Fair Housing Act serves to fight discrimination. Unfortunately, for its purposes The Fair Housing Act only acknowledges discrimination in rental, sales, and lending practices when it comes to race, gender, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status. Sexual orientation or gender identities are characteristics that fall between the cracks.
It is worth noting that the District of Columbia, 20 states, and more than 150 cities, counties, and towns nationwide, have already instituted laws that address discriminatory practices based on individuals’ sexual preferences.
Since the study was conducted, HUD has issued new guidelines that address cases of discrimination based on sexual preferences. It falls under the realm of The Fair Housing Act and leads HUD staffers to inform those who report instances of sexual discrimination about state and local agencies who are there to help the gay and lesbian community overcome unfair treatment. In February of 2012, HUD added the rule Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. The new rule calls for equal access without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status to anyone seeking HUD-funded, HUD-insured housing providers and/or FHA-approved loans.
The Obama administration has been recognized for its efforts towards ensuring those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community are given fair and equal treatment across the board. Bryan Greene, HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity stated, “A person’s sexual orientation or gender identity should not be a reason to receive unfavorable treatment when searching for housing. HUD is committed to making sure that LGBT individuals have equal access to housing opportunities.”