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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  • ARP

    As a variant to another commenter. I think that since many states have anti-discrimination laws and tend to rent in more urban areas, gays may be more open about their sexuality. In turn, landlords notice and openly discriminate regardless if they’re a couple or roommates. I really don’t think it matters if Landlords know about the law or not, they’ll find an excuse to not rent to them. In competitive rental markets where you may have multiple people interested in an apartment, it would be very easy to invent a non-discriminatory excuse for not renting. So, unless you come out and tell them you’re not renting to them because they’re gay, there’s little fear of litigation.

    And I know I’m consciously playing to all sorts of stereotypes, but why wouldn’t you rent to gays if you believe the stereotypes? Are you afraid of a clean apartment or having a subway tile back-splash installed? /stereotyping.

  • vejo

    Actually in Idaho it’s Mormonism. It’s fast become another Mormon-controlled state. I no longer choose Idaho potatoes anymore. I’d rather spend my money on Maine potatoes.

  • Out badgering probably.

  • Very Like!

  • Bill_Perdue

    The political reality is that Clinton is a rightwing Dixiecrat bigot – now rebranded because the polling changed – who championed DOMA and who helped get it passed, signed it immediately and then boasted about it on redneck radio stations – “Protecting religious freedom. It’s the foundation of our nation.When the Justice Department went after a church to gather the parishioners’ tithing money, the government was stopped cold because President Clinton overturned the government’s policy and protected us. It’s not the only time he’s defended our values…President Clinton wants a complete ban on late term abortions except when the mother’s life is in danger or faces severe health risks, such as the inability to have another child.The President signed the Defense of Marriage Act, supports curfews and school uniforms to teach our children discipline.President Clinton has fought for our values and America is better for it. Paid for by Clinton/Gore 96”

    CBS News chief political consultant Marc Ambinder commented: “One reason the Rick Warren thing is a big deal is because, after Bill Clinton, the gay community is unusually sensitive to getting the shorter angle of presidential triangulation. It is hard to overstate the optimism and excitement that gays and lesbians felt in 1992. But the optimism deflated spectacularly after “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, not to mention President Clinton’s sneaky 1996 ad boasting about DOMA, which aired only on Christian radio. Clinton was willing to say the word “gay” in public and appear in black tie at the Human Rights Campaign dinner, but, in the eyes of the gay political community, his commitment to gay rights vanished both
    times it counted most.”
    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-4675355-503544.html

    Counting on Democrats like Clinton, Obama and the rest is like being in that cult that dances with rattlers. You never know when it’ll happen, but you will get bitten.

  • Sweetie

    “This makes me think that the gay community hasn’t done a great job in
    this area of steering some of the conversation to this point.”

    We’re lucky to be involved in any conversation in the first place. Getting rid of sodomy laws, DADT, DOMA, and getting same-sex marriage legal — those are all tall orders. Plus we have the immigration bill problem, teen suicide/bullying, Mormon/Catholic/Islamic/Evangelical bashing, quack therapy businesses — et cetera — to deal with.

    Housing discrimination doesn’t have the same level of media/emotional appeal as same-sex marriage, the military (DADT), and so on. A lot depends upon what the media wants to run. Remember “if it bleeds it leads”?

    In terms of bleeding, consider Michele Obama’s “blood shed from Selma to Stonewall” speech in 2008 at the Waldorf Astoria fundraiser and compare it with the current state of Dem support for ENDA. Certain other people have done a far worse job of dealing with the conversation.

  • Damned if I know. Seems to me like he and Bill were both making the same point: Both parties were equally responsible for the current legislative anti-gay status quo. Which is something we all already know.

    The only difference now is the GOPers want to repeal all gay rights legislation, whereas it’s the Dems who talk* about expanding gay rights.

    * = It remains debatable whether Dem talk translates into action, since they seem prone always to punt when it comes time to make those words count. Just witness the immigration bill. And the DADT repeal deck-stacking. But at least it’s not a majority of Dems saying that it’s immoral and wrong to be a gay person — that remains solid GOP territory.

  • Thanks for the MATH LESSON. Now what was your point again?

  • The usual s***heads who never leave a name, but always leave slime tracks of le petite troll.

  • Yep, the wrathful touch of God’s Baptist absolutism.

  • O-Bots and Dem-apologists. Frankly I’m surprised our friendly neighborhood sock-puppet troll hasn’t weighed in.

  • It actually makes perfect sense.

    Another detail I’d add: I have to wonder at the level not only of self-identification involved in the study participants, but also in whether those in the more conservative states simply don’t notice the higher degree of discrimination and/or just throw up their hands and say “Oh well, nothing I can do, no point in reporting it.”

    In other words and in a different context, a locale with really thorough coverage in prosecuting rapes may very well report way more rape cases than another place where it goes mostly ignored and un-prosecuted.

  • JozefAL

    Bill, you need to go back and look at the political REALITY of 1996 when Clinton signed DOMA. Do you remember what the House and Senate votes were FOR DOMA? DOMA passed in the Senate with EIGHTY-FIVE votes. Do you know how many votes are needed to override a veto? SIXTY-SEVEN. Now, you may not realize this but–according to “liberal” math–eighty-five is greater than sixty-seven (to put it in number form: 85 > 67). And since the Senate’s GOP membership was NEITHER 85 NOR 67, it’s quite obvious that a lot of the 47 Senate Democrats voted for DOMA (a margin of 32 “for” compared to only 14 “against” with 1 “absent”).

    In the House, DOMA passed by a margin of 342 to 67. Now, in the House, a veto is overriden by a mere 290 votes, but again, that pesky “liberal” math means that 342 > 290. (Among the 198 Dems, the margin here was 118 “for” compared to 65 “against” with 15 “absent” or “not voting”; the other 2 votes against came from Independent Bernie Sanders and the only openly gay GOPer, Steve Gunderson.)

    Clinton, while he personally opposed same-sex marriage (a NOT uncommon stance for well over 95% of the US population at the time–even among the LGBT community, same-sex marriage was barely supported by even half the people; for many LGBT activists at the time, there was still a resistance to the “heteronormalcy” that “marriage” represented–and there’s still a fair amount of opposition to “gay marriage” among the LGBT community for the same reason), he felt that DOMA was an overreach. BUT, he also saw the numbers and saw no point in vetoing the bill when it was obvious (to anyone who can do math, at least) that the veto would be overridden. And, considering the fact that Clinton got the bill just SIX FUCKING WEEKS before the presidential election (and the GOP’s own platform had included an endorsement of DOMA’s Section 2), only the most politically naive (or outright stupid) would hold Clinton responsible.

    We all saw what happened in 2004 when Team Dubya pulled its own little “anti-same-sex marriage” card, resulting in a surprisingly heavy outturn by religious conservatives–and the fact that many states had their own “ban same-sex marriage” amendments on the November ballot. Anyone who thinks the GOP would NOT have used a Clinton veto to boost their own numbers in 1996 is just insane. It’s worth remembering that Perot did act as a bit of a spoiler in 1996 but there were a lot of religious conservatives who hadn’t been too enthusiastic about Dole; had Clinton vetoed the bill only to have it overridden would’ve been just the right ploy to get the GOP on the air, urging religious conservatives to come out in force to “make sure this never happens again.” (Yes, Dole was a conservative, but he wasn’t seen as fanatical enough about the “social conservative” agenda to get the largely religious social conservatives to line up solidly behind him.)

    But, let’s also remember that Bill Clinton came out for marriage equality before Obama did. And, there was that story from the 2008 campaign that showed how Obama had supported same-sex marriage back in the late 1990s, only to come out as “marriage should be between a man and a woman–because of my religious beliefs” when the matter was raised during the 2008 campaign. Also, don’t forget that Obama REFUSED to endorse California’s “No on 8” campaign–during his own run for the White House–because he THEN believed he had no business getting involved in a “local matter.” But in 2012, when North Carolina had its own “same-sex marriage ban” amendment come up, Obama felt THAT was important enough for him to get involved with by PUBLICLY opposing the ban. Why did CANDIDATE Obama feel that the Prop 8 campaign was beneath his notice but PRESIDENT Obama felt he had reason to involve himself in NC’s measure? Interesting that he LOST North Carolina in 2012 even though he’d won the state in 2008.

  • FLL

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

    You ask a question about why prejudice would be slightly higher in states with anti-discrimination protections. My guess is that states with anti-discrimination laws have a more liberal social atmosphere, have a higher percentage of openly gay people, and, therefore, landlords receiving an Internet inquiry from two men are more likely to assume that they are a couple rather than just two roommates. In the more conservative states, those without anti-discrimination laws, landlords may be more likely to assume the opposite. Does that explanation make sense?

  • Bill_Perdue

    Democrats?

  • nicho

    Who are the mouth-breathers downvoting this?

  • BlueIdaho

    Yes, exactly.

  • Brad

    I still here heterosexual peers who are very supportive of gay equality make comments that reveal they are totally unaware that discrimination in housing and the workplace are completely legal in many areas of the country. I’ll explain and they’ll sometimes still say, “But they still can’t legally do that, right?” It just seems to them incomprehensible that this discrimination can exists legally.

    This makes me think that the gay community hasn’t done a great job in this area of steering some of the conversation to this point, or with efforts that make the average person understand that it’s not just marriage rights we are fighting for.

    Making the average person understand this also does one other thing. It points out the hypocrisy of the people on the right who say that they love and support gays but just don’t share the view that gays should be able to legally marry. Most who say this do not mean it because they are first in line to vote against ENDA and to defend an employer’s right to discriminate or a landlord’s right to deny housing to gay citizens.

  • cole3244

    you can’t erase bigotry it has to die out with the stupid individuals that have it in their mores, it will never be completely eliminated but hopefully future generations will be more acceptable to those that are different from the norm, less religious activism & intolerance would be helpful.

  • Sadly, it was the same argument put forth by the segregationist bigots in the 1950s and 60s, that forcing them to treat African Americans like equal human beings was against their religious beliefs.

  • BlueIdaho

    Several cities in Idaho within the past 12 months have passed city ordinances against discrimination specifically with regards to the LBGT community. In today’s local paper it was noted that the Idaho state legislature will take up a bill next year that would nullify all of them. The bat-shit crazy religious nuts here are afraid that these ordinances will infringe on their religious freedom.

  • Bill_Perdue

    We need a robust ENDA that covers employment, housing and public services in the form of an inclusive constitutional amendment.

    And we need to continue to push Obama to keep his 8 or 9 year old campaign promise to sign an executive order with ENDA like protections for workers in corporations with federal contracts.

    And we need Congressional repeal of DOMA, a bill signed by a rebranded bigot named Bill Clinton and supported overwhelmingly in 1996 by both parties. DOMA denies us the human right to sanctioned partnering but it also denies our humanity. DOMA says, in essence, that we’re untermensch.

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