The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced this morning that it will enforce protections for LGBTQ Americans under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a decision that effectively bans housing discrimination based on a prospective or current tenant or homeowner’s sexual preference or gender identity. The news makes HUD the first federal agency to carry out the anti-discrimination rules established under the landmark 2020 Supreme Court Case Bostock v Clayton County and implemented by President Joe Biden via executive order on the first day of his administration.
“Housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity demands urgent enforcement action,” Jeanine M. Worden, acting assistant secretary of HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equality Opportunity (FHEO), said in a statement. “That is why HUD, under the Biden Administration, will fully enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Every person should be able to secure a roof over their head free from discrimination, and the action we are taking today will move us closer to that goal.”
“Enforcing the Fair Housing Act to combat housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t just the right thing to do-it’s the correct reading of the law after Bostock,” added Principal Deputy General Counsel Damon Y. Smith. “We are simply saying that the same discrimination that the Supreme Court has said is illegal in the workplace is also illegal in the housing market.”
The historic move expands the 53-year-old FHA, which prohibits housing discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin” but is vaguer in cases when an individual’s sexuality or gender identity comes into play. Under the Biden administration, millions of people who identify as gay, trans, or nonbinary will enjoy the same federally enforced housing protections as their fellow Americans for the first time in history.
The Human Rights Campaign responded swiftly to the news, with its president, Alphonso David, issuing the following statement:
“Today, thanks to the Department of Housing and Urban Development and President Biden, LGBTQ people can rest assured that if they are denied housing in an emergency or refused rental of an apartment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity they will have recourse under federal law. This announcement implementing the Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling and applying it to the Fair Housing Act will make a huge impact on the lives of LGBTQ people, particularly transgender people and LGBTQ people of color who face disproportionate rates of discrimination. From Day One, the Biden administration has made unprecedented and immediate changes to the lives of the 11 million LGBTQ people across the country and we look forward to continuing our work together with the president and his administration moving forward.”
Per a memorandum issued by HUD, complaints regarding reported cases of alleged discrimination based on sexual preference and gender identity dating back to January 20, 2020, will be reviewed retroactively. As reported by the Real Deal, HUD has received only 200 related complaints of alleged discrimination over the last year but expects that number to increase exponentially now that enforcement under the FHA has been formally established. Studies have shown that gay individuals and same-sex couples have unique challenges in securing housing—including rental properties—that their straight counterparts do not. Trans people seeking housing typically face even greater obstacles.
As noted by Vox, the FHA applies to both private and governmental housing and offers anti-discrimination protections against individuals whether they are trying to rent an apartment or home, secure a mortgage, or obtain Section 8 housing, for example.
In addition to ordering all FHEO regional offices, Fair Housing Assistance Program agencies, and Fair Housing Initiative Program grantees to review allegations of sexual orientation or gender identity-based discrimination received since January 2020, the memorandum specifically directs:
- HUD will accept and investigate all jurisdictional complaints of sex discrimination, including discrimination because of gender identity or sexual orientation, and enforce the Fair Housing Act where it finds such discrimination occurred.
- HUD will conduct all activities involving the application, interpretation, and enforcement of the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on sex discrimination consistent with its conclusion that such discrimination includes discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity.
- State and local jurisdictions funded by HUD’s Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) that enforce the Fair Housing Act through their HUD-certified substantially equivalent laws will be required to administer those laws to prohibit discrimination because of gender identity and sexual orientation.
- Organizations and agencies that receive grants through the Department’s Fair Housing Initiative Program (FHIP) must carry out their funded activities to also prevent and combat discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity.
As reported by the Real Deal, HUD has also put an end to one of the Trump’s administration’s last-ditch “midnight regulations” that would have allowed (the policy change was proposed but never finalized) HUD-funded homeless shelters to assign transgender individuals based on their biological sex, and not their preferred gender identity.
Matt Ammon is the current Acting Secretary of HUD while Biden’s nominee for the role, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), awaits a vote from the full Senate. Trump’s HUD Secretary, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, wasn’t exactly a known ally of the LGBTQ community.