January 30, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
HUD: Religious groups must abide by LGBT non-bias rule

A Department of Housing & Urban Development official said Monday religious institutions receiving federal funds for housing programs will have to abide by a new HUD rule prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people.

John Trasviña, assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, confirmed the rule would impact religious institutions during a conference call in response to a question from the Washington Blade, saying, “All HUD housing providers are covered under this rule.”

Asked to clarify whether these providers include religious institutions, Trasviña replied, “Yes.”

Ian Thompson, the ACLU’s legislative representative, first wrote in a blog posting on the ACLU’s site last week that the rule will cover religious institutions that receive money for federal programs.

“[T]he rule will require all organizations that operate HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing facilities to serve LGBT Americans looking for shelter and housing — including religious organizations,” Thompson said. “[O]nce a religious organization chooses to provide housing services or programs with the aid of federal funds and benefits from HUD, it cannot shield itself from traditional safeguards that protect civil rights in the provision of those services.”

Thompson added that religious organizations providing entirely private housing services are unaffected by the change.

“We are pleased that HUD said that all organizations must provide equal access to HUD housing programs and did not sanction the use of religion to discriminate,” Thompson concluded.

The rule, first proposed in January, covers programs serving an estimated 5.5 million Americans, including those living in low-income subsidized housing.

The measure, which has four general components, requires owners and operators of HUD-assisted housing to make housing available to applicants and occupants regardless of their LGBT status.

The rule clarifies “families” otherwise eligible for HUD programs can’t be excluded because of one or more members of the family’s sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

Additionally, the rule 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 applicant or occupant of a dwelling, whether renter or owner-occupied.

Trasviña said HUD clarified this provision doesn’t prohibit voluntary and anonymous reporting of LGBT status in state, local or federal data collection requirements.

Additionally, the measure has a bearing on mortgage insurance programs. It prohibits lenders from using LGBT status as a basis to determine a borrower’s eligibility for Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgage financing.

“These days, when one-third of new homebuyers are served by FHA lenders, this last element to make sure that one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not a basis for denying an FHA loan is critically important to America’s families,” Trasviña said.

Trasviña added that rule is “governed as a HUD program rule,” so, unlike the Fair Housing Act provision, HUD offices throughout the country will enforce it and not just the Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced on Saturday during a speech at the 24th annual Creating Change conference that HUD would this week make final the rule by publishing it in the Federal Register. On Monday, the department published the text of the final regulation.

Trasviña confirmed that the Federal Register would publish the rule this week, but in response to another Blade question said he couldn’t give a more definitive time for when the rule will be published.

“That’s a little bit out of our control,” Trasviña said. “Typically, the rules get printed within a week once they’re submitted, so the rule has been submitted, we’re just waiting for its publication.”

Trasviña noted that publication of the rule will start the 30-day period before the measure will go into effect and expects the measure to go into effect starting in March.

In a statement provided by HUD, gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) commended the department for implementing the change, saying “I am grateful to the Obama administration for instituting this important policy.”

 

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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