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HUD to study housing discrimination toward gays

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is launching a national study of discrimination in the sale or rental of housing to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. "Our goal is to provide information -- to allow the dialogue to focus on facts rather than preconceived notions," said HUD Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic, who is heading the study. Bostic said HUD conducts a major study of discrimination nationwide once every 10 years, and this is the first time it will focus on sexual preference and gender identity. Findings are expected to be reported next spring.

Sexual preference and gender identity are not protected categories under federal fair housing law, but Bostic said 80 states and localities include them in their laws. Locally, the District and Maryland include sexual orientation as a protected fair-housing category; Virginia does not.

HUD is planning to send out paired testers to search for discriminatory practices. Such testing has long been done to hunt for discrimination on the basis of race. It's done by sending two trained testers to apply, separately, for a rental apartment, for example. Their financial profiles are identical, they dress and behave similarly, and they follow a prepared script when applying for the apartment. Then researchers compare notes on how each was treated.

One of HUD's first tasks is to write the script for such testing on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity. That can be difficult to script for a single person looking for housing, rather than a same-sex couple. HUD researchers are starting with a "listening tour" of San Francisco, Chicago and New York City to get ideas on how to design their study. Among the researchers' questions, according to HUD's news release: "For example, how would you signal in a conversation with a landlord that an individual, as opposed to a couple, was LGBT?"

Might they be playing into stereotypes? Maybe -- and that may not be a problem. "There is a question whether we should avoid stereotypes," Bostic said. "Some say the most stereotypical people are the most susceptible to discrimination."

Denny Horner, an Evers & Co. agent in the District who is gay and who has a predominantly gay clientele, said he has not personally witnessed housing discrimination locally. "I think it's the area," Horner said. "I think we live in a bubble compared to other marketplaces. ... I know that in other parts of the country, that type of law would be useful."

Bostic said HUD's study is part of a broader effort to make the agency's policies and services more inclusive of the LGBT community, including in public housing and FHA loan programs.

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 18, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Buying , Mortgages , Neighborhoods , Selling  
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