Where you live makes all the difference, and artificial barriers to housing choice can seriously hurt the quality of life for Virginians. Housing discrimination doesn’t just hinder access to homes and neighborhoods; it prevents families from accessing quality education, employment, transportation, and health care available in those neighborhoods.
As noted previously, federal and state fair housing laws prohibit housing discrimination in Virginia on the basis of:
- national origin
- familial status
Notably absent in both the Virginia and federal fair housing laws are protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has made a positive move toward protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from housing discrimination. New federal regulations which took effect last month prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all of HUD’s housing programs, including HUD-financed and HUD-insured housing. While the new regulations do not apply to private landlords or real estate agents, they represent a step in the right direction.
HUD’s new regulations are based on the reality that housing discrimination against LGBT people is rampant. A 2011 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force uncovered startling facts about LGBT housing discrimination. Of 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming respondents, 19% reported they been refused a home or apartment and 11% reported they had been evicted because of their gender identity or expression. Equally alarming, almost one-fifth reported having experienced homelessness sometime in their lives because of their gender identity.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force calls homelessness among LGBT youth an “epidemic” and estimates that between 20 percent and 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as LGBT. Housing discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation is not just a youth issue. A report authored by several prominent LGBT rights groups found that LGBT older adults experience serious problems in long-term care facilities. When asked whether LGBT adults could be open with long-term care facility staff about gender identity or sexual orientation, only 22% felt that they could, and a whopping 89% percent of respondents said they feared discrimination from staff based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
HUD’s new LGBT protections include the following:
- a prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status when determining eligibility for HUD-funded housing or mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA);
- a provision that that prohibits administrators of HUD-assisted housing or FHA-insured mortgage programs from inquiring about an applicant’s sexual orientation or gender identity;
- a definition of “family” for use in Section 8 and public housing assistance programs that includes individuals regardless of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status; and
- a prohibition against discrimination in the provision of FHA mortgage insurance based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The new regulations are a good start, but there is more work to do. LGBT people in Virginia will not enjoy full protection from housing discrimination until sexual orientation and gender identity become protected classes under the commonwealth’s fair housing laws. Virginia must join twenty sister states, the District of Columbia, and over 200 localities and broaden its fair housing law to ensure equal access to housing for LGBT individuals. All Virginians deserve equal protection under the law, and diverse, vibrant neighborhoods ensure a high quality of life for everyone.
This is a guest post by Rachael Deane and Kate Eggleston. Rachael is a Virginia attorney and the director of HOME’s Center for Housing Advocacy. Kate is a fair housing coordinator at HOME and a recent graduate of VCU’s Master of Public Administration program.