Combating Housing Discrimination: Moving Beyond Narrow Definitions of Families

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Two years ago, Michelle DeShane wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender man, to the housing voucher she receives to find affordable housing. The local housing authority in Richland refused and told her that the couple did not meet its definition of a “family.” Then it referred the DeShanes to a neighboring housing authority, because, as they were apparently told, that housing authority “accepts everyone – even Martians.”

What happened to the DeShanes is wrong. And it’s about to change. Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced new rules to combat housing discrimination against LGBT families. These rules make clear that housing that is financed or insured by HUD must be available to all families, regardless of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or marital status. They also prohibit lenders considering sexual orientation or gender identity and expression when determining whether to accept an application for a Federal Housing Act (FHA)-insured mortgage.

The new rules also respond to comments by the ACLU and other civil rights group by ensuring that the rules apply to every group receiving federal HUD funds, even religious groups. So, a religious organization that also administers HUD housing will no longer be permitted to deny and discriminate against applicants based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Religious organizations that provide wholly private housing services are not affected by the rule.

To quote HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, “This is an idea whose time has come.” Housing is too important to be denied based on narrow definitions of what makes a “family.”  HUD’s mission is to “create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.”  By explicitly recognizing that LGBT families have equal rights to access housing, HUD moves one step closer to fulfilling its mission.

You can find more information about the HUD rules here. The rules will go into effect in about a month.