On the day of the White House Conference on Aging, the Obama administration announced new guidance Monday to make clear anti-LGBT discrimination is unacceptable in government-sponsored and insured housing, including housing for the elderly.
Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Julian Castro said in a statement the new guidance reinforces the administration’s opposition to bias against the LGBT community in housing and elsewhere.
“Every American deserves to live with dignity, regardless of who they love or who they are,” Castro said. “HUD is committed to fighting unjust discrimination and to expanding housing opportunity for all.”
The five-page guidance from the Department of Housing & Urban Development spells out HUD-assisted multifamily housing as well as housing subject to a mortgage insured by the Federal Housing Administration must be made available regardless of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. Such housing includes Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly, which provides rent subsidies for low-income elders to make housing affordable to them.
Moreover, the guidance clarifies no owner or administrator of HUD-assisted housing, approved lender in an FHA mortgage insurance program or any recipients or sub-recipient of HUD funds may ask about the sexual orientation and gender identity of applicants for such housing.
The notice is signed by Edward Golding, principal deputy assistant secretary of housing, and addressed to multifamily program centers, rural housing services directors contract administrators, multifamily owners and management agents.
Jennifer Ho, senior adviser to Castro, said in an interview with the Washington Blade the guidance doesn’t represent a new administrative policy change, but is a reminder about the Equal Access Rule instituted by HUD in February 2012 to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in housing sponsored by the federal government.
“I think the point that we really want to make clearly to multifamily developers is to make sure they pay attention to the rule, make sure that they know we will not tolerate discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or their gender identity,” Ho said. “If they have a practice of doing that, we’ve got tools that we can use to say that’s not OK.”
According to HUD, the department has filed 349 fair housing complaints based on LGBT discrimination since the rule was instituted in 2012, although the number of complaints that have been successful in court isn’t readily available. Violating the rule could result in HUD’s determination that an owner has failed to comply with program requirements and the department may pursue any available remedy, including sanctions, to address the violation, the new guidance says.
Ho said HUD periodically issues guidance to reaffirm opposition to anti-LGBT discrimination, such as a memo in February clarifying the Equal Access Rule applies to LGBT people seeking a home loan and transgender individuals seeking access to homeless shelters, but the guidance was made public on Monday to coincide with the White House Conference on Aging.
“The sad truth is we can’t end discrimination but we can let organizations know that it’s not acceptable and if we find out that they’re doing it, we have actions that we can take to force them to correct their behavior…if that’s what they’re going to do,” Ho said.
The White House Conference on Aging, which has taken place each decade since the 1960s, seeks to identify and advance actions to improve the quality of life for older Americans.
LGBT advocates have high hopes the event will cast a spotlight on issues facing LGBT elders. According to a 2014 SAGE report, one-in-eight older LGBT adults and one-in-four transgender older adults say they were the victims of discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity when searching for housing.
Michael Adams, executive director of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE, said his organization is “extremely pleased” with the HUD guidance.
“HUD’s announcement is a strong step toward ending discrimination against LGBT people in federally supported senior housing,” Adams added. “With a recent report showing that housing discrimination against LGBT elders is rampant, this is just the kind of leadership we need from the federal government. Now we need to make sure that these anti discrimination protections are effectively implemented.”
Ho said Congress should strengthen U.S. code to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination explicitly on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, which would provide more robust protections and apply in situations other than housing sponsored by the federal government.
“The Fair Housing Act is under the purview of Congress, and we think that the Fair Housing Act could be strengthened…but if it’s not something that Congress is ready to do, then as an administration, we are taking all the actions that we can,” Ho said.
An upcoming comprehensive non-discrimination bill that Rep. David Cicilline (R-R.I.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are slated to introduce in both chambers of Congress should address anti-LGBT discrimination in housing — government subsidized and otherwise — as well as employment, public accommodations, credit, education and federal programs.
Meanwhile, Ho said the guidance in place should be a tool to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in housing to the furthest extent possible under current law.
“The guidance will be a tool that will allow advocates to use it in instances where think there is discrimination that has occurred where they want to do education in terms of what to do,” Ho said. “It’s an extra tool that allows us to get the word out.”