June 19, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
HUD study finds anti-gay bias in rental market
Shaun Donovan

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan unveiled a first-of-its-kind study on discrimination against same-sex couples in housing. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Same-sex couples face a greater rate of discrimination in the online rental housing market, according to a first-of-its-kind study unveiled by the Department of Housing & Urban Development on Tuesday.

The 69-page report, titled “An Estimate of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples,” was conducted by sending 6,883 email tests in 50 metropolitan markets across the country between June and October 2011.

The findings: same-sex couples face unequal treatment compared to straight couples when responding to online ads for rental units. Also, the report found gay male couples experience more discrimination than lesbian couples.

According to the study, straight couples were favored over gay male couples in 15.9 percent of tests and over lesbian couples in 15.6 percent of tests.

“At this preliminary stage of the rental housing transaction, barriers indicate a rejection of the tester based solely on the sexual orientation information provided in the e-mail rather than on any characteristics related to qualification for the housing, thus preventing basic access to rental units,” the report states.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a statement the study — with the University of Albany, State University of New York — is evidence that President Obama and the administration have been “unmatched in our efforts” to ensure fair treatment for LGBT people.

“Following the president’s lead, HUD has taken historic steps in the area of fair housing to ensure that we fulfill our nation’s commitment to equality,” Donovan said. “As this study shows, we need to continue our efforts to ensure that everyone is treated the same when it comes to finding a home to call their own, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

For each paired test, two emails were sent to the housing provider regarding the unit advertised online at craiglist.com. The only difference between the paired emails: one couple was same-sex, the other opposite-sex. The study measured treatment depending on whether the tester was told the unit was available, asked to contact the landlord, invited to the see the apartment or received any response at all.

Federal law prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and familial status, but says nothing about sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, 20 states and D.C. have laws that specifically prohibit such discrimination against LGBT individuals. Moreover, HUD last year published a rule that requires U.S.-government funded housing providers to provide equal access without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

According to a statement from HUD, the study will be an initial step toward future research on LGBT housing discrimination. Recommendations for future studies include in-person testing, examination of legislative protections at the local jurisdictional level and tests for discrimination against transgender people.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, commended HUD for producing the study and called on Congress to take action to prohibit housing discrimination against LGBT people.

“The pervasiveness of housing discrimination toward same-sex couples is an outrage,” Carey said. “No one should be denied housing because of who they are or who they love. It is time for Congress to enact real protections for all LGBT people struggling to find an apartment to rent, or home to buy.”

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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