Amending the Fair Housing Act to Support LGBT and Single Folks

Map by National Fair Housing Alliance
Map by National Fair Housing Alliance

Last month marked the 45th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). To celebrate, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) published a report entitled, “Modernizing the Fair Housing Act for the 21st Century.” The paper works to elucidate the current discriminatory obstacles faced by renters and homeowners, and to offer suggestions to fill in current loopholes. Since FHA’s inception, two amendments have been made to protect against sex (1974) and disability (1988) discrimination. Despite the bill’s progress and evolution, it has yet to include protections against sexual orientation, gender-identity, and marital status discrimination.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Between 2009 and 2011, hate crimes based on sexual orientation increased from 17.8 percent to 20.8 percent, and this type of discrimination has manifested itself in the housing sector. In a study conducted in Michigan, 27 percent of same-sex couples were treated differently based on sexual orientation, including asking their references to clarify their sexual orientation. The research also illustrates that “the largest evidence of sexual orientation discrimination was in rental tests (33 percent), followed by sales tests (25 percent) and close behind were mortgage tests (20 percent).” Today, 21 states as well as the District of Columbia have enacted laws that protect against housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. New York is not one of them.

Gender Identity Discrimination

The NFHA study reports that discrimination based on gender identity is also prominent in housing. In a different study conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, it is reported that of 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming participants, 19 percent had been denied a home or an apartment, 11 percent had been evicted, and 19 percent of folks became homeless. Of the participants that tried to access homeless shelters, 1/3 were turned away and 42 percent were segregated to a facility intended for folks that identify with a different gender identity. 55 percent of participants that did access the shelter system experienced harassment; 25 percent experienced physical assault; and 22 percent experienced sexual assault.

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey also showed that transgender folks of color experience much higher levels of discrimination. The survey illustrated the following:

  • 38 percent of African-American transgender folks were refused housing; 31 percent were evicted due to discrimination; and 41 percent experienced homelessness (5 times the national rate).
  • 29 percent of Latino/a transgender folks were refused housing; 15 percent experienced eviction due to discrimination; 26 percent experienced homelessness (4 times the national average).
  • 21 percent of Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander transgender folks were refused housing; 7 percent were evicted due to discrimination; 14 percent experienced homelessness (2 times the national average).

Today, 16 states as well as the District of Columbia have enacted laws that protect against discrimination based on gender identity. New York is one of them. *

Marital Status Discrimination

Non-married couples have been experiencing significant discrimination in the housing market as well. According to the Fair Housing Center in Nebraska-Iowa, investigations regarding income discrimination found that 38 percent of cases were rooted in discrimination based on marital status. The investigation found that many landlords made statements such as “’I don’t believe that people should live in sin.’”

Today, 22 states including the District of Columbia have enacted laws that protect against marital status discrimination. In this case, New York is one of them.

The information compiled by the NFHA illuminates an undeniable need to amend the Fair Housing Act. Within the past few years, LGBT and unmarried folks have gained tremendous visibility and greater rights. However, with acceptance also comes animosity. As the paradigm shifts, the male/female binary and hetero-normativity is called into question and somewhat dismantled. To protect the inevitable backlash during such transition, it is imperative that legislative protections be implemented and enforced at this time.


*A previous version of this blog post mistakenly stated that New York did not have laws preventing housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, NY Exec Law § 296(2)(a) does provide this protection. 


Friday News Round-up!

It’s Friday! Here is some of the most relevant housing news from this week:

  1. On Wednesday, Brian Lehrer moderated a mayoral forum on housing policy at NYU’s Furman Center. The forum gave candidates a chance to comment on the city’s current housing policies, as well as offer suggestions for the future. All of the candidates agreed that New York City’s affordable housing stock is inadequate.  In an effort to change this reality, Speaker Quinn wants to create a fund to purchase distressed  foreclosed properties in bulk, while Advocate Bill de Blasio and Bill Thompson want to leverage pension funds and other city capital to create more affordable housing.  And, Comptroller John Liu wants to utilize his “Capital Acceleration Plan,” which would identify excess budgeting in long term plans, eliminate it, and use the surplus to create more affordable housing. To listen to the full forum, check out the audio here
  2. This week, President Obama released his budget proposal for 2014. According to the Washington Post, the President allocated $47.6B to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is a 6 percent increase from 2013. Of those funds, $37.4 will provide rental assistance to 4.7M low-income families and $2.4 will provide 10,000 new vouchers for veterans. While the increased budget will subsidize many housing costs, Secretary Sean Donovan fears that the allotted funding will not cover the administrative costs of public housing authorities. With insufficient funding, we look to local government to think creatively about recuperating these costs. As we know, NYCHA controversially plans to solve this problem through land leasing their parking lots to luxury developers.
  3. Today, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) released a report entitled, “Modernizing the Fair Housing Act for the 21st Century.” Currently, the Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, family status, and religion. However, there are some glaring loopholes — the law does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, income status or martial status (as relating to queer partners).  The NFHA report makes visible the inadequate protections in the Fair Housing Act and advocates that lawmakers revise the law to reflect the current needs of its citizens.
  4. On Monday, the City Planning Commission (CPC) approved the Bloomberg administration’s microunit proposal: aDAPT NYC. The plan details the building of micro-units, or tiny apartments, as a means of expanding the affordable housing stock. However, the program requires rezoning in order to be built, and rezoning requires public approval. In the coming weeks there will be a public referendum on the plan. If given the go-ahead from the community as well as the city council, this program would set the precedent for building tiny apartments in NYC. Stay tuned as this story unfolds!
  5. Okay, so forgive us, this happened a few weeks ago. But its a great report and we want to give it the thumbs up it deserves: CASA members and the Urban Justice Center partnered to conduct a survey on the tenant experience in Bronx Housing Court. Their startling results, along with several solid policy recommendations, are available here.

Have a great weekend and stay dry!

Discriminatory Bank Practices Lead to Deteriorating Neighborhoods?

Last week, the National Fair Housing Alliance  (NFHA) released a report: The Banks are Back, Our Neighborhoods are Not. The report examines how foreclosed housing is treated in white communities versus communities of color. The NFHA focused on Real Estate Owned (REO) single family housing:  homes that went through the foreclosure process and are now owned by the banks.

Banks are not typically interested in owning property, so nearly all REO homes assumed vacant and for sale. According to the NFHA’s report, REO housing in communities of color is more likely to be in bad condition than REO housing in white communities. It is less likely to be properly signed or marketed to potential purchasers. Poor property maintenance will directly affect who will buy it.  The way that banks market REO homes will have a direct affect on the surrounding community.

The foreclosure crisis has impacted communities of color on a greater scale than white communities, in part due to a racial targeting in the subprime mortgage market. “The Banks are Back, Our Neighborhoods are Not” shows that these communities of color are still experiencing foreclosure crisis at disproportionate levels. It also demonstrates how the Fair Housing Act is being violated by these discrepancies. According to NFHA, information from this study will be used in lawsuits and Housing and Urban Development administrative complaints for failing to uphold the Fair Housing Act statutes.

In our work we haven’t come across many multifamily REO properties. (In New York, there is no shortage of slumlords willing to buy run-down buildings.) However, we have seen how foreclosure is a greater burden to communities of color. Like the National Fair Housing Alliance, we believe that the lending community must be held accountable for its role in the foreclosure crisis, and join with the National Fair Housing in calling for banks to look closer at their lending practices and how they affect all communities.

Read the full report at the National Fair Housing Alliance.