Last year, we told you about a proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regarding equal access to HUD housing programs regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Among the key requirements of the rule is a prohibition on inquires regarding sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as a prohibition on using sexual orientation or gender identity as grounds for decision-making in Federal Housing Administration (FHA) programs. Additionally, the rule brings the definition of “eligible families” into the 21st century by including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT).
This afternoon, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced that the final rule will be published in the Federal Register early next week, meaning that it will take effect in just a little over one month from today! Needless to say, this is a tremendous step forward in efforts to stamp out discrimination against LGBT people in housing.
Of critical importance, the rule will require all organizations that operate HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing facilities to serve LGBT Americans looking for shelter and housing—including religious organizations. As a coalition of more than 30 civil rights organizations (including the ACLU) wrote to HUD last year, once a religious organization chooses to provide housing services or programs with the aid of federal funds and benefits from HUD, it cannot shield itself from traditional safeguards that protect civil rights in the provision of those services. Those religious organizations that provide wholly private housing services will be unaffected by this new rule. We are pleased that HUD said that all organizations must provide equal access to HUD housing programs and did not sanction the use of religion to discriminate.
As Secretary Donovan stated last year at the time of the publication of the proposed rule, “This is a fundamental issue of fairness. We have a responsibility to make certain that public programs are open to all Americans. With this proposed rule, we will make clear that a person’s eligibility for federal housing programs is, and should be, based on their need and not on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The ACLU could not agree with Secretary Donovan more strongly. This new federal rule will move us one step closer to an America where decent, affordable housing is available to all Americans.