HUD adds LGBTs to housing rules

At the Creating Change Conference held in Baltimore Jan. 25–29, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced a new policy to fight discrimination. The new rules will be published this week and go into effect 30 days later.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan

“Today, I am proud to announce a new Equal Access to Housing Rule that says clearly and unequivocally that LGBT individuals and couples have the right to live where they choose. This is an idea whose time has come,” he said.

The new rules increase protection against housing discrimination by:

• prohibiting owners and operators of HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing from discriminating against an applicant or occupant of a residence based on sexual orientation or gender identity;

• prohibiting all lenders offering Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in determining a borrower’s eligibility; and

• clarifying the definition of “family” to ensure that otherwise eligible participants in any HUD programs will not be excluded based on marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

“I’m here this afternoon because our president and his administration believe the LGBT community deserves a place at the table — and also a place to call home. Each of us here knows that rights most folks take for granted are routinely violated against LGBT people,” Donovan said. “That’s why I’m proud to stand before you this afternoon and say HUD has been a leader in the fight — your fight and my fight — for equality. Over the last three years, we have worked to ensure that our housing programs are open. Not to some. Not to most. But open to all.”

The new regulations result from HUD under Donovan collecting data to better understand how same-sex couples suffer housing discrimination. His department has already worked to protect LGBT people under the Fair Housing Act.

Donovan is the first sitting cabinet secretary to address Creating Change.

This was the 24th Creating Change, the country’s largest annual gathering of LGBT rights advocates, staged annually by National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Video of Donovan’s speech follows the jump:

—  David Taffet

President Obama set to deliver keynote at HRC dinner; Kerry introduces anti-discrimination bill

President Barack Obama, left, and Sen. John Kerry

Officials with the Human Rights Campaign announced this week that President Barack Obama will deliver the keynote address at HRC’s 15th annual National Dinner on Saturday night, Oct. 1 in Washington, D.C.

This will be the president’s second time to speak at the HRC National Dinner; the first time was in 2009, less than a year after he was elected president.

HRC President Joe Solmonese praised the president’s “tremendous record of accomplishment for LGBT people,” and said that even as we celebrate the final repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the LGBT community must “redouble our efforts for the fights that remain ahead.”

In other news out of D.C., Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts today introduced legislation that would ban discrimination against LGBT people in the housing and credit markets. The Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act would amend the Fair Housing Act to prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or source of income.  It would also amend the Equal Opportunity Credit Act to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in credit decisions.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler is set to introduce the companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

In a press release sent out by his office, Kerry said: “It’s hard to believe that in 2011, any law-abiding, tax-paying American who can pay the rent can’t live somewhere just because of who they are. Housing discrimination against LGBT Americans is wrong, but today in most states there isn’t a thing you can do about it. This legislation would end discrimination that continues to hurt people.”

—  admin

All families deserve equal access to housing

Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted by U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan in the wake of last week’s announcement that HUD has proposed new rules ensuring that LGBT families will not face discrimination in access to housing.

SHAUN DONOVAN  |  Special Contributor

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Last month, we were reminded of Dr. King’s insight once again, as President Barack Obama signed legislation repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” into law.

It was a moment, the president noted, “more than two centuries in the making.”

The historic repeal of DADT is only one part of the Obama administration’s larger fight on behalf of the LGBT community. Whether it is giving same-sex couples hospital visitation rights or  ensuring federal workers can afford long-term care for their partners, this administration is committed to fighting discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

I’m proud that the Department of Housing and Urban Development is part of that commitment, as we work to make inclusivity and diversity cornerstones of America’s housing policy.

Indeed, from conducting the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination to instructing our staff to be vigilant about whether any LGBT-based housing discrimination complaints can be pursued through the Fair Housing Act, we’ve worked to ensure our core housing programs are open to all.

That’s why we recently announced a new rule ensuring LGBT individuals and couples can benefit from HUD programs.

Our proposed regulations will make clear that the term “family” includes LGBT individuals and couples as eligible beneficiaries of our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs.

Unfortunately, while HUD programs are designed and administered to provide a decent home for every American, we’ve seen evidence that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and families are being arbitrarily excluded from some housing opportunities.

For instance, two years ago Michelle DeShane, a lesbian, wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender male, to her housing voucher.  The local housing authority denied her request because the couple did not meet its definition of “family.”

The housing authority then referred the couple to a neighboring housing authority — because, as they were apparently told, the neighboring housing authority “accepts everyone — even Martians.”

That’s not right. No one should be subject to that kind of treatment or denied access to federal housing assistance because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And so, through this proposed rule, the Obama administration is ensuring that when it comes to housing assistance funded with taxpayer dollars, they won’t be.

Specifically, it adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of definitions applicable to HUD programs. It clarifies HUD regulations to ensure that all eligible families have the opportunity to participate in HUD programs regardless of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.

And it prohibits inquiries regarding sexual orientation or gender identity and makes clear that gender identity and sexual orientation should not and cannot be part of any lending decision when it comes to getting an FHA-insured mortgage.

Every American family should have the opportunity to make a home for themselves free from discrimination. That is why this rule is so important — and it’s why all of us at HUD are so proud to announce it.

Shaun Donovan is the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28.

—  John Wright

Realtors adopt non-discrimination policy

All members of North America’s largest trade organization must comply with amended code of ethics that now includes protection based on sexual orientation

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

FAIR HOUSING | From left, Texas Pride Realty’s Bob McCranie and Leslie Wilson, Oregon Realtor Steve Strode, NAGLREP founder and Executive Director Jeff Berger, NAGLREP Director and Legislative Liaison Eric Kodner at the National Association of Realtors national meeting in New Orleans earlier this month after an amendment to the trade association’s code of ethics to include sexual orientation passed. (Courtesy Bob McCranie)

A suburban Dallas homeowner once posted this sign: “For Sale by Owner. No Queers.”

Within the city of Dallas, housing discrimination has been illegal since 2002, and if the ordinance had been in effect at the time, the homeowner could have been fined $500 for violating the city’s nondiscrimination housing ordinance.

But while some found the sign offensive, nothing was done.

The sign is now in the archives at Resource Center Dallas.

And since the National Association of Realtors voted to amend its code of ethics to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation at its November meeting, that homeowner could no longer receive help from any of NAR’s more than 1 million members. Any Realtor showing that house would be violating NAR’s code of ethics.

NAR is the largest trade organization in North America.

When the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals organized in 2007, passing this amendment to NAR’s code of ethics was an original goal.

A NAGLREP board member brought the amendment to the Wisconsin state association. That organization then officially introduced it to the national organization.

In May, NAR’s board of directors approved the amendment, which sent it for final approval by a vote by the general membership.

The amendment passed easily on a voice vote at the national meeting in New Orleans earlier this month. By NAR rules, since the proposal did not pass unanimously, opposition could call for a paper ballot, and an Arkansas Realtor who opposed the measure did just that.

But even with the secret vote, the measure passed with 93 percent of the 25,000 convention attendees voting in favor.

According to Jeff Berger, founder of NAGLREP, the only opposition that was voiced concerned federal fair housing laws that do not include sexual orientation.

“But there wasn’t much resistance,” he said.

Still, opposition was expressed on the group’s blog, Berger said, citing the usual biblical and religious excuses to discriminate. He pointed out that those Realtors writing anti-gay comments on the blog would now be considered to be in violation of the organization’s code of ethics and could be sanctioned.

Berger called the code the industry’s own mini-ENDA.

“Clients can’t be discriminated against,” he said. “Realtors can’t discriminate against each other.”

And everyone who works in an office with a Realtor designation now is bound by non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation.

Should someone violate the code, Berger said they could be brought before NAR’s grievances committee. If found in violation, they risk anything from a warning to losing their membership and the Realtor designation.

Jeff Updike of RE/MAX Urban in Downtown Dallas serves on the board of NAR.

“I don’t know that it’s going to have a huge impact,” Updike said, but he wasn’t downplaying the significance of the new rule.

Updike believes that any sort of discrimination is just bad business and that any agent that does discriminate will probably not survive in the competitive industry.

Berger said that in the last six months, 10 cases of housing discrimination against gays and lesbians have been documented. An older case in Dallas involving an agent refusing to sell property in Oak Lawn because of the area’s connection to the LGBT community ended with that agent leaving the business. Her license status is “suspended.”

NAGLREP has also been asked to prepare a “best practices” chart for Realtors when doing business with the LGBT community.

“We will be presenting it to NAR at the midyear meeting in Washington, D.C. in May 2011,” Berger said.

The last time the NAR code of ethics was changed, Berger said, was in 1988 to include families with children and people with handicaps. That change was made in conjunction with a change to federal law.

“Our next goal is to see the federal Fair Housing law amended,” Berger said.

Updike would also like federal housing regulations to match the new industry standard. He said he expects NAR to support without lobbying for that change.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens