Saturday, July 2, 2022

The good and bad news about housing for LGBTQ Americans

Must read

Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

It has been a particularly difficult time for Dianne Karon, a 65-year-old transgender woman, as the political vitriol targeting queers and transgenders has escalated.

Despite this, Karon says she is still lucky to have safe housing after finding a place in Stonewall Housean LGBTQ-friendly residential neighborhood for seniors in Brooklyn that opened in 2019. Like many queer and transgender people, she struggles to find permanent housing, and her time in prison has certainly not made it any easier.

“I would live on the street if it weren’t for [Stonewall House]’ said Karon. “It’s the best, and I don’t have to hide myself.”

LGBTQ individuals have long had problems finding and maintaining stable housing. Studies have found housing providers preference for heterosexual couples more than same-sex partners and offer transgender applicants fewer options than cis applicants when disclosing their gender status. You can search for housing very challenging for the roughly 3 million LGBTQ adults over 50 who grew up in a time when openness about one’s identity much less accepted† And LGBTQ people have had little satisfaction; while housing discrimination based on characteristics such as race and disability is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act, a landmark civil rights statute passed 54 years ago, sexual orientation and gender identity were not protected until 2021.

It’s a huge shift for the LGBTQ community, though experts say there’s still a long way to go before these new rights reach the rights they’re supposed to protect. Getting there requires building the confidence of LGBTQ individuals that their concerns are taken seriously, and sustainable and proactive training and enforcement for all the many gatekeepers involved in the housing market. The government’s track record in these areas is far from perfect.

Implementation is important because policy changes alone are not enough to change behaviour. And places like Karon’s Stonewall House, named after the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 often cited as a turning point for the modern LGBTQ movement, are not sufficient. Although it is one of a handful of gay-friendly, federally subsidized housing complexes across the country, experts recognize that there will never be enough units of this type to meet the need, and not all LGBTQ people want to live in those communities.

In the long run, addressing the US housing crisis would give landlords and owners less power to discriminate. But here and now the federal government can vigorously enforce anti-discrimination laws to ensure everyone, including LGBTQ Americans, can have safe, affordable homes.

Supreme Court and Congress Finally Take Steps to Protect LGBTQ Americans

Despite the spate of political and rhetorical attacks on LGBTQ individuals over the past decade, civil rights experts say legal tools have never been available in the US to combat discrimination in LGBTQ housing. This fact can largely be traced back to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch just two years ago.

In June 2020, Gorsuch, one of the court’s more conservative judges, wrote to the majority opinion: Bostock v. Clayton Countywhereas an honest reading of “sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which prohibits employment discrimination rooted in “an employee’s race, color, sex, religion or national origin” – pertains to employees who are gay or transgender, too.

The implications of this decision were huge. On his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order direct all federal agencies to verify and ensure that their rules, regulations, and guidelines were in accordance with the Bostock decision.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was the first to respond; on February 11, 2021, HUD issued a memo Written by Jeanine Worden, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunities, affirming that the gender discrimination provision in the Fair Housing Act is similar to Title VII. Given that, HUD concluded, LGBTQ individuals would now be entitled to the same federal housing protections as everyone else under the law. HUD is “open and ready to help individuals who believe they have been discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Worden wrote.

For BostockHousing protection for LGBTQ individuals was spotty and, in most US states, completely absent. From 2016, 22 states had laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 19 of those banned discrimination based on sex. While HUD promulgated a rule in 2012 to ensure all individuals have access to the agency’s programs, shelters, services and facilities, LGBTQ individuals could find little relief in the courts for housing discrimination in the mainstream rental and homebuying markets.

These legal barriers were clearly illustrated in 2016 when Mary Walsh and Bev Nance, a married lesbian couple in Missouri, were explicitly denied housing in a retirement home because they were gay. The couple had been together for almost four decades and applied to live in Friendship Village, a retirement community. The women had lengthy conversations with facility staff, making multiple visits to see the units, and even paid their $2,000 down payment. But just days before signing their final agreement, they received a call from management asking for more details about their relationship. After this conversation, Walsh and Nance were told that Friendship Village would only accept couples who followed the “biblical definition” of marriage, claiming that marriage was defined as between a man and a woman.

Walsh and Nance filed a lawsuit claimed housing discrimination, but in 2019 a district court dismissed their complaint, declaring that same-sex couples were not entitled to protection under the Fair Housing Act.

Then came Bostock. Michael Allen, a civil rights lawyer who helped litigate Walsh and Nance’s case, said that after the Supreme Court ruling in 2020, lawyers from Friendship Village called and asked if they would consider a settlement. Walsh and Nance agreed, and while the terms are confidential, Friendship Village now makes it clear in its handbook that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited.

Progress has been made since Bostockbut not enough

In the past year, Allen told me, there was “no confusion at all” in the courts about applying Bostock to fair housing, and he says civil rights lawyers are “in very good shape” to work out more cases in the future, which will help solidify Bostock’s reasoning for future housing disputes.

But while the courts understand the law, the burden of enforcement generally rests on the individual. You need to know your housing rights to get redress and you need the resources to take action.

HUD does have a tool to help ease that burden: Individuals can: file administrative complaints with HUD free, and federal housing officials will then investigate them. In other words, people can start the process without paying expensive attorney fees up front.

If an administrative judge later hears a case, the plaintiff can engage a lawyer, but this is not mandatory. Lawyers are also incentivized to represent individuals with strong evidence of housing discrimination because if the plaintiffs win, the defense must cover their lawyer’s legal costs.

HUD, in turn, has begun taking steps to more proactively solicit concerns from LGBTQ renters and homeownersWhen announcing the Worden memo last year, HUD officials said they had received 197 claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in 2020. A HUD spokesperson told cafemadrid the agency had received 232 cases by 2021, still a long way from the number of complaints filed based on race (2,514) and disability (4,855) that year. It will take time, experts say, before more LGBTQ Americans really learn about the agency’s changes and trust HUD to take their issues seriously.

And more needs to be done. In 2021, Amy Hillier, professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and devin michelle bunten, professor of urban economics and housing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an analysis published on how to bring more queer and intersectional approaches to fair housing. Specifically with regard to the Fair Housing Act itself, they say: there is still room to reinterpret the language to protect LGBTQ individuals more broadly. While the law protects people from discrimination based on ‘family status’, it currently does not include chosen families of many queer and trans individuals. “The legality of private discrimination against most household structures reflects the skepticism of non-normative housing that has long been embraced by public policy,” they write.

To be clear, adopting new federal protections will not solve the wider shortage of affordable housing. Faithfully implementing those new laws doesn’t even end LGBTQ discrimination. Race discrimination in housing has been illegal under the Fair Housing Act since 1968. Anti-Asian violence has been illegal under civil and criminal statutes for years. Both sadly still exist throughout society.

“The Fair Housing Act is just a tool, but without it, at least in the housing area, people could discriminate against LGBTQ individuals with impunity,” Allen said. “This will correct for that.”

More articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest article