January 28, 2012 at 2:49 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Donovan: HUD to make final LGBT housing rule ‘next week’

Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Shaun Donovan (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BALTIMORE — Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Shaun Donovan officially announced on Saturday his department will make final “next week” a proposed rule to protect LGBT people against discrimination in federal housing programs.

“I am proud to announce a new Equal Access to Housing Rule that says clearly and unequivocally that LGBT individuals and couples have the right to live where they choose,” Donovan said. “This is an idea whose time has come.”

The secretary made the announcement during his speech at the 24th annual Creating Change conference at the Hilton Baltimore. He’s the first Cabinet secretary to speak at a Creating Change conference, which are hosted by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.

According to Donovan, after the rule is published in the Federal Register, it will go into effect following a 30-day waiting period.

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

The measure clarifies “families” otherwise eligible for HUD programs can’t be excluded because one or more members of the family is LGBT, in a same-sex relationship, or is perceived to be such an individual or in such a relationship.

It also 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.

The measure also 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.

Prior to the announcing the development, Donovan told the story of couple, Mitch and Michelle DeShane, whom he said faced discrimination under the current lack of federal protections in housing. Donovan said two years ago Michelle wanted to add Mitch, a transgender man, to the voucher she receives for affordable housing.

But Donovan said the local housing authority denied the request because the couple didn’t meet its definition of family.

“Then, the DeShanes were referred to a neighboring housing authority – because, as they were apparently told, and I quote, that housing authority, ‘accepts everyone – even Martians,'” Donovan said.

“That’s just wrong,” Donovan concluded. “No one should be subject to that kind of treatment or denied access to housing assistance because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The Washington Blade first reported Donovan would make an announcement about the rule during his speech at the Creating Change. Sources told the Blade the measure would be published in the Federal Register on Monday. A HUD official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said later the rule would be published next week, but a day for when it will be published hasn’t yet been set.

Donovan said the publication of the rule “won’t be the end of the process” and his department will undertake further steps to ensure training and education happen to implement the measure.

“HUD and its fair housing partners will work to provide guidance and training on the substance of this rule – and the impact it will have for both how we administer HUD programs and also how we enforce our nation’s fair housing laws more broadly,” Donovan said.

LGBT groups, whom Donovan credited with providing feedback for the rule when the department solicited comments, praised HUD for making it final.

Rea Carey, the Task Force’s executive director, said the measure “will literally save lives” because many LGBT people “depend on HUD programs to have a roof over their head.”

“Unfortunately, there are landlords out there who would choose to discriminate, putting families in peril,” Carey said. “These housing protections will reduce homelessness and increase economic security for LGBT people, which helps break the cycle of poverty that many families experience due to discrimination.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the change will help LGBT people “in one of the most fundamental aspects of life — finding and keeping a home.”

“This common sense action will help some of the most vulnerable people in our community in trying to make homes for themselves and their families,” Solmonese said.

Harper Jean Tobin, the National Center for Transgender Equality’s policy counsel, said the development “a major and urgently needed advancement in basic protections for transgender people” and called on other departments in the Obama administration to follow suit.

“NCTE is calling on other federal departments to follow HUD’s common-sense approach and use existing legal authority to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in the programs they fund and administer,” Tobin said.

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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