The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a new rule Thursday that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in federally funded and federally regulated housing programs.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, speaking on behalf of President Obama, said the sweeping new rule would cover a wide range of programs serving millions of Americans, including low-income subsidized housing and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance programs.
“This is a fundamental issue of fairness,” Donovan said. “With this proposed rule, we will make clear that a person’s eligibility for federal housing programs is, and should be, based on their need and not on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
HUD officials said that under standard rulemaking procedures, the proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register and open for public comment during a 60-day comment period. After that, the administration expects to finalize and fine-tune the rule and put it into effect, HUD officials said.
In a statement released Thursday, HUD said the proposed rule includes these main elements:
*It prohibits lenders from “using sexual orientation or gender identity as a basis to determine a borrower’s eligibility for FHA-insured mortgage financing.”
*It clarifies that “families” that are otherwise eligible for HUD programs, “may not be excluded because one or more members of the family may be an LGBT individual, have an LGBT relationship, or be perceived to be such an individual or in such a relationship.”
*It prohibits owners and operators of HUD-assisted housing or housing whose financing is insured by HUD “from inquiring about the sexual orientation or gender identity of an application for, or occupant of, the dwelling, whether renter or owner-occupied. “
The HUD statement says the agency “is proposing to institute this policy in its rental assistance and home ownership programs, which include the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance programs, community development programs, and public and assisted housing programs.”
In a telephone news conference, Donovan said the new rule also requires applicants seeking federal housing grants for a wide range of housing programs to comply with state and local anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT people in 21 states. He said the protections under this provision would cover 43 percent of the U.S. population.
He said HUD was also conducting a first-ever national study of discrimination against LGBT people in the rental and sale of housing. He said the study broadens HUD’s existing studies that regularly measure housing discrimination based on race.
Donovan and Deputy HUD Secretary Neil Coleman said HUD carefully reviewed various federal housing laws to determine where HUD could intervene to bar sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination under existing law.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), an LGBT civil rights bill that has been stalled in Congress for nearly 20 years, does not include protections for housing related discrimination.
LGBT supportive members of Congress and mainline LGBT advocacy groups in Washington, like the Human Rights Campaign, have said an incremental approach of pushing first for legislation limited to employment protection represents the best way to achieve approval of such legislation.
Some LGBT activists have called for the immediate introduction of a broader LGBT civil rights bill that covers housing, public accommodations and other areas in addition to employment. So far, no lawmaker as introduced such a bill.
Most political observers say no LGBT supportive legislation is expected to emerge from Congress over the next two years because the Republican controlled House of Representatives would block the legislation.
HRC praised HUD’s proposed rule on LGBT housing discrimination. In a statement, it said the rule touches on some of the proposals in a package of 70 recommendations it submitted to the Obama administration two years ago aimed at improving the lives of LGBT people through executive action rather than legislation.
“The policies proposed today will help some of the most vulnerable people in our community and the nationwide survey will finally shed light on the discrimination LGBT people face every day in trying to make homes for themselves and their families,” HRC president Joe Solmonese said.
“Since the administration began, HRC staff have met and communicated with numerous federal agencies on how to implement these polices,” the HRC statement says. “Addressing discrimination in federal housing programs was part of HRC’s recommendations for HUD.”