May 11, 2010 at 3:55 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Six months later, HUD changes still pending

Gary Gates, research fellow at the Williams Institute at the University of California, said one survey revealed that 5 percent of people who identified as LGBT have experienced discrimination in housing. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT rights advocates are still waiting for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development to issue regulations on changes it announced late last year to include LGBT families in low-income housing programs.

The department announced plans to make the changes Oct. 26 — more than six months ago — but the changes have yet to be enacted.

Natalie Chin, a Lambda Legal staff attorney, said she didn’t know whether HUD has taken an unreasonably long time to implement the changes, but acknowledged that “it’s been quite some time” since they were first announced.

“It would be nice to get updates just to let us know what’s going on,” she said. “We just haven’t heard anything about it, so that just makes me concerned they’re getting credit for something that doesn’t even exist yet, and it’s important that this actually happens and that they follow through.”

Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said her organization is among those waiting for HUD to issue the new regulations.

“Like everyone else, we’re hoping that they do it sooner rather than later,” she said. “And probably, like everyone else, we’re not surprised that it’s taking time. Unfortunately, that’s the way things go with the government sometimes.”

The changes are intended to ensure the department’s low-income housing programs don’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. They would clarify the term “family,” as used to describe the public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs, to include otherwise eligible LGBT people and couples.

Additionally, the changes would require grantees and others who participate in HUD programs to comply with local and state non-discrimination laws regarding LGBT people. The changes also would ensure that all Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgage loans are based on a borrower’s credit-worthiness and not on unrelated characteristics such as sexual orientation or gender identity.

The proposed but unimplemented changes were among the accomplishments that Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese recently cited in crediting the Obama administration with improving the lives of LGBT people. He praised HUD for making the changes during an April 22 discussion on the Michelangelo Signorile radio show on Sirius XM’s OutQ.

“We asked them to do a number of things at HUD to ensure that LGBT families are not discriminated against in housing issues,” Solmonese said. “They’ve done all of them.”

In a statement, Michael Cole, an HRC spokesperson, said Solmonese’s comments during the radio show “gave credit where credit is due” to the Obama administration.

“The Department of Housing & Urban Development committed to concrete steps to protect our community and they are doing so,” Cole said. “A proposed regulation prohibiting LGBT discrimination in HUD programs is under internal review and will soon be published for public comment.”

Cole said HRC would like the process to “move more quickly,” but that doesn’t “diminish the fact that they are positive and praiseworthy steps forward.”

“We will continue to urge HUD and the myriad other agencies to move as quickly as possible to address the real problems facing our community every day,” he said.

Brian Sullivan, a HUD spokesperson, confirmed that the regulations for the changes haven’t yet been issued and said he didn’t know when they’d be published.

He said putting forth new regulations after changes have been announced often doesn’t happen “with the speed many people want it to,” but that the process is “methodical and deliberate and necessarily so.”

“Lawyers are looking at this and trying to discover what is our authority to do this,” he said. “Can we support this if it were challenged? You don’t want to go down a certain road and then fail ultimately.”

Sullivan said issuing new regulations for proposed changes can often take some time and recalled how recently issued HUD rules changing the way people buy and refinance their homes under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act took about seven years to implement.

“I don’t believe that this will take that long because when we were talking about RESPA reform, it was changing how people do business,” Sullivan said. “Millions of people buy and refinance homes every year, so it was a giant rule to be sure.”

Concurrent with developing regulations for proposed pro-LGBT changes in housing programs, Sullivan said HUD is also in the process of seeking public comment for a multi-year, comprehensive project examining housing discrimination that LGBT people throughout the country have faced.

“You should know that there is a series of things that have been suggested in helping promote inclusion and to broaden the prohibition of exclusive activities in our federal programs,” he said. “You know that we’re undertaking an unprecedented study of housing discrimination as it relates specifically to the LGBT community.”

Gary Gates, research fellow at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said a question in the General Social Survey for 2008 revealed that 5 percent of people who identified as LGBT said they’d experienced discrimination in housing.

He noted that the question wasn’t restricted to low-income housing programs and the sample surveyed for the initiative was about 70 people, so the finding “comes with a pretty wide margin of error.”

Whatever the number of LGBT people facing discrimination in housing programs, advocates say the new guidelines would benefit the LGBT community.

Chin said the LGBT community “just really needs to be persistent” in making sure that HUD follows through on its proposed changes because current practices have a significant impact.

“If you’re not considered a family because you’re LGBT and your relationship isn’t recognized, then you can lose your home after living with the same person for 45 years,” she said. “It’s a really unfortunate and really unequal treatment.”

Nipper said she considers HUD’s proposals “very important changes” because they would enable the department to “take our community, which, up until now, has been rendered virtually invisible within this agency, and redefine family to include us.”

“Everyone thinks that our community is somehow all rich, white men,” she said. “The reality is that that’s not an accurate picture of the LGBT community. We’re from all racial and ethnic backgrounds and all across the social-economic strata. So, there are certainly people within our community who will benefit from these changes.”

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

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