Federal Housing Protections for Transgender Tenants

HUD expands its interpretation of the Fair Housing Act to cover gender identity.

By Jamilah King Jul 27, 2010

As Change.org’s Adam Amir put it, the Obama administration has tossed the gay and transgender communities a few more crumbs. First, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan announced earlier this month that the agency would pursue cases of housing discrimination against LGBT tenants. Now there’s news that HUD is expanding its interpretation of federal housing policy to include protections for gender identity.

Although the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 as part of the Civil Rights Act to prevent housing discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin, in its current form the law doesn’t explicitly extend to sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s welcome news. Studies by New York-based Queers for Economic Justice have shown that the vast majority of queer and transgender folks who could benefit from HUD’s increasingly privatized housing are of color and, because of rampant job discrimination, have incomes that fall well below national averages.

Another recent study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force also found that housing bias is an endemic problem in the queer community. An astounding 19 percent of transgender respondents reported homelessness due to discrimination because of their gender identity.

"Ending discrimination in housing is absolutely vital. Everyone deserves to have a safe home where they do not have to worry about eviction or harassment simply because of their gender identity," Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality told reporters.

Back in October, HUD announced a series of initiatives aimed at addressing such discrimination. The new steps included requiring all applicants for HUD grants to comply with state and local non-discrimination laws, and developing new regulations that included queer families in the agency’s programs.

The new guidelines also mandate that HUD staffers inform tenants of their rights and, in states with explicit protections, jointly investigate any bias complaints with local law enforcement. Currently, 13 states and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation in non-discrimination laws.

The bad news is that it’s still legal in 38 states to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And the federal legislation that could fix that problem remains stalled in Congress, with little real White House support for its movement.

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