HUD Announces First-Ever Same-Sex Housing Discrimination Study

June 19, 2013
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This week, HUD released the nation’s first-ever national study examining housing discrimination against same-sex couples in the private rental market. The study measured the treatment that same-sex couples received from rental agents when inquiring about apartments advertised online, as compared to how otherwise similar heterosexual couples were treated.

Federal fair housing law prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status. Though it doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes, discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals is banned in 20 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 150 cities, towns, and counties across the nation.

According to HUD’s study, same-sex couples experienced unequal treatment more often than heterosexual couples when responding to Internet ads for rental units, and findings show that gay male couples experience more discrimination than lesbian couples.

The results were based on nearly 7,000 email tests conducted in 50 metropolitan markets across the country between June and October of 2011. For each paired test, two emails were sent to the housing provider regarding the unit advertised online. The only difference between the emails was whether the couple was same-sex or heterosexual. Unfavorable treatment was measured by whether the tester was told the unit was available, asked to contact the landlord, invited to the see the apartment, or received any response at all.

Key findings of the study showed that:

  • Same-sex couples experienced discrimination in the online rental housing market, relative to heterosexual couples;
  • Adverse treatment was found primarily in the form of same-sex couples receiving fewer responses to the email inquiry than heterosexual couples;
  • States with legislative protections showed slightly more adverse treatment for gays and lesbians than in states without protections; and
  • Adverse treatment of same-sex couples was present in every metropolitan area where tests were conducted, but there was no clear-cut pattern in the magnitude of adverse treatment by metropolitan size.

HUD describes the study as the initial step toward future research on same-sex housing discrimination. Recommendations for upcoming studies include in-person testing, examination of legislative protections at the local level (rather than only at the state level), and tests for discrimination against transgender people to further examine differences in treatment between same-sex and heterosexual couples in states without legislative protections.

“President Obama and this administration have been unmatched in our efforts to ensure equal and fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and communities,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a statement. “Following the president’s lead, HUD has taken historic steps in the area of fair housing to ensure that we fulfill our nation’s commitment to equality. As this study shows, we need to continue our efforts to ensure that everyone is treated the same when it comes to finding a home to call their own, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

The study, An Estimate of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples, is available at http://www.huduser.org/portal/publications/fairhsg/discrim_samesex.html.

Source: HUD