The Fair Housing rush: Three bills now pending

Jerrold Nadler

Jerrold Nadler

Three U.S. representatives have introduced separate bills in the past week designed to protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing. The flurry of interest comes when more popular LGBT bills are still awaiting critical votes and during an election year fraught with political tugs-of-war.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Joe Sestak (D-Penn.), and Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) have submitted bills that would amend the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) to prohibit discrimination in housing on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Each of them has a strong record as an LGBT ally, and all three are members of the LGBT Equality Caucus.

The original FHA was a groundbreaking piece of civil rights legislation enacted in 1968 in response to widespread housing discrimination against people of color. At first, it prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin. It was later amended to also prohibit discrimination based on sex, disability, and familial status.

Individuals seeking redress under the FHA may bring a lawsuit in federal district court or file an administrative complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Twenty states plus the District of Columbia have additional housing protections based on sexual orientation, and 13 states plus the District have protections based on gender identity.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in an interview that federal protections are still necessary, however, because of the variability or absence of state and local laws.

All three new bills would amend the FHA to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories in the sale, rental, and financing of housing. Rep. Towns’ bill would additionally amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban such discrimination in public accommodation and facilities. Rep. Sestak’s bill would add provisions for a public awareness campaign related to the measures.

Rep. Nadler had been planning for a long time to look into LGBT housing discrimination, said a spokesman from his office. As for the other bills, he said, “We’re all after the same goals. . . . At some point we’ll agree on what bill we’ll put our weight behind.”

A spokesman for Rep. Sestak says his office had not been aware that the other bills were being submitted but that they look forward to working with Reps. Nadler and Towns.

No spokesperson from Rep. Towns’ office returned calls before press time.

Both Rep. Nadler’s and Towns’ bills have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where Nadler chairs the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), chair of the Judiciary Committee, is a co-sponsor of Nadler’s bill. Rep. Sestak’s bill has not been referred yet.

Brian Moulton, chief legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), said Rep. Towns’ office had approached HRC about his bill and they have been working with him for several weeks. HRC has also been working with Rep. Nadler, but is not at the moment working with Rep. Sestak on this issue.

There is, as of this writing, no similar bill in the Senate.

Rep. Nadler held a subcommittee hearing last week to examine a variety of ways in which the FHA could be improved, one of which was by including LGBT protections. Among the witnesses was the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Rea Carey. She said, in an interview, that the hearing was a rare, if not the only, instance of an expert from an LGBT organization being asked to testify in the context of a broader piece of legislation. Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), submitted written testimony, but did not speak.

No national study exists that quantifies how many LGBT people have faced housing discrimination but, at the hearing, Carey cited small studies, court cases, and individual examples that point to a sobering problem. A study by the Michigan Fair Housing Centers in 2007, for example, found 30 percent of same-sex couples were treated differently—and negatively—when attempting to buy, rent, or finance a home.

Surveying transgender people specifically, a national study by the Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality last year found that 11 percent of the more than 6,400 transgender people surveyed had been evicted and 19 percent had become homeless because of their gender identity.

LGBT seniors are particularly at risk when it comes to housing security, testified Carey. They struggle to retain family homes or to find “virtually non-existent” LGBT-friendly elder housing. Adding LGBT protections to the Fair Housing Act, she said, would provide “a critical safety net” for the estimated 2 to 7 million LGBT people who will be 65 or older in the next decade.

In order to gain a better understanding of the extent and impact of anti-LGBT housing discrimination, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently began to develop plans for a national study. The study is expected to offer support for any LGBT housing discrimination bill.

HRC’s Moulton said the study would be a “tremendous asset” as a lobbying tool, but added that he thinks “it may be further down the line before there’s action” on any related bill.

Carey said, however, that she thinks the chances of an LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination bill moving forward are good. She notes that both the House and Senate have already voted in favor of legislation—the Hate Crimes Prevention Act—that is inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The question may be more in the timing. Carey observed that Congress is at the moment “consumed by health care.” Moulton also noted that there is already momentum in Congress for other LGBT-related legislation, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

One Response to The Fair Housing rush: Three bills now pending

  1. […] past week designed to protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing. Here’s my piece for Keen News Service on the […]

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