This morning, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act in the Senate and House. This legislation would, among other things, amend both the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing and credit. It would help to expand the numbers of Americans who have equal access to credit, home lending, the home rental market, and the home sales market.
It should go without saying that access to stable, secure housing is essential for success in life, and the ability to become a home owner is a fundamental aspect of the American Dream. And yet, those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) often experience discrimination in housing, denying them the security of one of life's most basic necessities.
The need for the legislation could not be clearer. Earlier this year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) utilized some of the regulatory tools at their disposal to begin addressing this extensive problem by requiring equal access to HUD housing programs regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. HUD stated that there is strong evidence that LGBT individuals and families do not have equal access to housing. As one example, they discussed a 2007 study of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation in Michigan:
Testers who posed as gay or lesbian home seekers received unfavorable treatment on issues such as whether housing was available, the amount of rent, application fees, and levels of encouragement as compared to testers posing as heterosexual home seekers. The gay and lesbian testers also were subjected to offensive comments.
Real-world personal stories and experiences certainly confirm what the studies have found. Take as an example Rayetta Darby and Erika Johnson, a committed same-sex couple in Huntington, West Virginia, who were denied the ability to rent an apartment simply because of their sexual orientation and the fact that they are in a relationship together. As Darby reported to WSAZ News Channel 3:
I said, 'Is it the gay thing?' and I got a response that, 'Yeah, I guess I have a problem with that…'
In addition, a recent survey of more than 6,000 transgender people conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found "significant levels of housing instability for transgender people." For example:
26 percent of respondents reported having to find different places to sleep for short periods of time due to bias. 11 percent of respondents reported having been evicted due to bias, and 19 percent reported becoming homeless due to bias.
As an illustration of the discrimination transgender men and women experience in housing, John Trasvina, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, wrote about the experiences of Mitch and Michelle, a Washington State couple, in a Huffington Post blog earlier this year:
…I met Mitch and Michelle, a couple with children, a family like any other. But Mitch had been denied the opportunity to add Michelle to his public housing voucher for the sole reason that he was transgender and therefore Mitch and Michelle did not fit into the public housing authority's definition of family.
Passage of the HOME Act would move us one step closer to an America where decent, affordable housing is available to all Americans. Kudos to Sen. Kerry and Rep. Nadler for spearheading efforts to expand housing non-discrimination protections in Congress.