A report released this week by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the first-ever national study documenting discrimination against same-sex couples in the private rental market. Titled "An Estimate Of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples", the study found that gay and lesbian couples (gender identity did not fall within its scope) are discriminated against by 15.6% and 15.9% of housing providers, respectively, as evidenced by nearly 7,000 tests conducted across 50 metropolitan areas. These tests consisted of two emails sent to each provider inquiring after housing for two, with no difference between them except for the sexual orientation of the fictitious couple. Researchers then looked for differences between the responses, if any, received by the heterosexual versus the same-sex couple. Notably, a 2009 national survey cited in the report found that only 3.8% of LGB individuals reported having experienced housing-related discrimination, a gap of more than 10%, which suggests that same-sex couples may often not even be aware that they have been discriminated against.
What can be done? Twenty states and the District of Columbia have already implemented laws prohibiting housing discrimination against LGBT individuals, but at the federal level, the Fair Housing Act – the primary federal statute governing housing discrimination – does not currently include protections for sexual orientation or gender identity. Legislation like the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act, to be reintroduced this session, would address this.
As Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, put it:
[W]e desperately need congressional action so that the Fair Housing Act is amended to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Non-discrimination should be a no-brainer. To quote Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:
The pervasiveness of housing discrimination toward same-sex couples is an outrage. No one should be denied housing because of who they are or who they love. It is time for Congress to enact real protections for all LGBT people struggling to find an apartment to rent, or home to buy.