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.