U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill Thursday that would amend the landmark Fair Housing Act of 1968 to include a ban on housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Nadler introduced the measure, the Fair & Inclusive Housing Rights Act of 2010, hours before he held a hearing to discuss possible changes for the Fair Housing Act.
“Housing discrimination remains a persistent problem in our country,” he said in opening remarks at the hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, which he chairs. “While we would like to think that housing discrimination is an artifact of the past, we know it is not.”
Nadler and several witnesses who testified at the hearing, including Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, praised the Fair Housing Act for making important progress in fighting housing-related discrimination against other minorities.
The act, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing on the basis of race, color, religion and national origin. Congress amended the law in 1974 to include protections based on gender. In 1988, it added protections based on a person’s disability and family status.
“Discrimination [in housing] on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity are perfectly legal in many areas, and people are regularly denied a place to live simply because of that status,” Nadler said at the hearing.
He noted that Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, joined him in introducing the Fair & Inclusive Housing Rights Act, which Nadler said would ban housing related discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
The three-page bill is focused solely on expanding the Fair Housing Act to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We’re very pleased that he introduced this today and, with our testimony and the support of others, we hope it gains momentum,” Carey said after the hearing. “There are a number of members of Congress who will be quite supportive of this.”
In her testimony, Carey cited preliminary findings of a Task Force survey on transgender discrimination showing that 11 percent of transgender respondents reported being evicted and 19 percent reported becoming homeless due to incidents of discrimination.
“For us, the pursuit of the American dream, including home ownership, is a risky proposition,” she said. “When our sexual orientation or gender identity is known, either because we offer it willingly or a landlord, realtor or lender is made aware by other means, there is potential for outright hostility, property damage and even physical violence.
“Studies show that in renting apartments, when callers described themselves as gay or lesbian, apartments are more likely to be described as unavailable.”
Nadler’s bill comes at a time when Capitol Hill insiders expect the House to soon vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Insiders, including LGBT activists, say ENDA has a good chance of clearing the House but its prospects in the Senate are less certain.
Other people who testifyied at the hearing said they supported adding sexual orientation and gender identity protections to the Fair Housing Act, and also called for better enforcement of act’s existing protections.
The other witnesses included Shanna Smith, president of the National Fair Housing Alliance; Barabara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Kenneth Marcus, visiting professor of Baruch College School of Public Affairs; John Relman, founder and director of Relman & Dane; and Okianer Christian Dark, an associate dean and professor of law at the Howard University School of Law.