HUD study finds significant anti-gay discrimination in rental housing market

A major first-of-its kind study, just released by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, finds significant discrimination against gay couples in the rental housing market.

Among the study’s key findings:

Same-sex couples experience discrimination in the online rental housing market, relative to heterosexual couples.

Adverse treatment is found primarily in the form of same-sex couples receiving fewer responses to the email inquiry than heterosexual couples.

States with legislative protections show slightly more adverse treatment for gays and lesbians than in states without protections.

Adverse treatment of same-sex couples is present in every metropolitan area where tests were conducted, but no clear-cut pattern exists in the magnitude of adverse treatment by metropolitan size.

As HUD notes in its press release on the study, the Fair House Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate in housing rental, sales and lending, does not cover sexual orientation.

What many people don’t realize is that “discrimination” is only “illegal” when the law specifically says it is illegal against the community in question.  So while it is illegal at the federal level to discriminate in a number of ways against someone based on race, religion or national origin, it is not illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity (meaning, against transgender people).  The reason it’s not illegal in those cases is because the law does not mention gay or transgender people.

You may have noticed a particularly fascinating bullet point above, that I put in bold.  Namely, the study found more rental housing discrimination against gay couples in states where laws were already on the books banning such discrimination.  The study does a good job of fleshing out the possible reasons why, including:

  1. That perhaps in those states the laws aren’t being enforced, so there’s more discrimination.  The only problem there is that the law also isn’t being enforced in states that have no laws protecting gays, so why would prejudice be higher in states that do have civil rights laws covering gays?
  2. That housing providers are unfamiliar with the law.  Meaning, the numbers would be better if housing providers knew that they’d get into trouble if they treated a gay couple differently.  The major way these kinds of laws benefit gay people, or any other affected community, is by serving as a deterrent to discrimination.  If people know they’ll be in trouble if they discriminate against gay couples, perhaps they’ll think twice before doing it.  But if they’re not familiar with the new law, it won’t change their behavior.
  3. Perhaps the legal protections exist in states that have the highest need for them.  Meaning, that just because discrimination is higher in states with anti-discrimination laws doesn’t mean that the laws aren’t working.  Say the rate of discrimination was X with the law.  It’s possible that the rate of discrimination could have been double that had the law not been passed.  So even though the rate is still high, and perhaps higher than in other states, that does not per se mean that the law didn’t work, or at least provide a benefit.

Still, it does sound odd.

Also interesting, the study found that the incidence of discrimination against gay couples in rental housing, around 15.75% on average, is “similar in magnitude” to the discrimination faced by Black (21.6%) and Latino (25.7%) couples.  It’s also interesting to note that Latino’s face more discrimination than African-Americans in this area.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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