Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Obama Administration Passes the Buck on Fair Housing for LGBT Americans

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced Monday that all applicants for funding must comply with all state and local laws prohibiting discrimination of the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Currently there is no federal law prohibiting such discrimination. Only 20 states and the District of Columbia have laws providing protection based on sexual orientation and only 10, plus DC have protection based on gender identity or expression.

HUD provides funding to federal, state and local agencies for affordable housing programs and oversees the Federal Housing Authority, which insures loans made to low income and first-time home buyers.

“We‘re using every avenue to shut the door against discrimination,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “Today, we take an important step to insist that those who seek federal funding must demonstrate that they are meeting local and state civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

This is one of those "no news is good news" stories. While this is a step forward in federal recognition of the fact that LGBT Americans have no rights, it does nothing to expand our rights. All it does is require lenders, landlords, and others involved in buying, selling or renting living spaces to abide by the state and local laws -- that they are already required to abide by -- if they want money from HUD.

Several years ago I was a HUD-certified housing counselor and conducted first-time home buyer counseling and seminars for a local debt counseling agency. I know from having written HUD grant applications that the agency already requires you to submit paperwork showing that your organization is in compliance with all federal, state and local fair housing laws. Failure to provide such documentation means no money.

This whole story smacks of more Obama lip service. It is no coincidence that this announcement comes during Pride Month. This summer we are dealing with some very serious issues. The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and getting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed are two that come to mind. Why isn't the president pushing congress to pass a trans-inclusive ENDA? Why has there been no movement on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?

The only real news, buried at the end of the press release, is that HUD will now require that all applicants for FHA-backed loans be considered on their income, creditworthiness and other relevant factors and not their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

The HUD statement also announced... wait for it... a study. Yes, in what's becoming a hallmark of the Obama administration, if you want to be perceived as doing something, while actually doing nothing, launch a long, expensive study. This one is relying on the LGBT community to offer suggestions on how the study should be conducted by visiting a web site and leaving comments.

While all of this is being greeted by the LGBT community with much fanfare, there is not much about this announcement that is new. Contrary to what you might read elsewhere, this is not historic. There is no change, or proposed change, to the Federal Fair Housing Act, just a passing of the buck to those states and municipalities that have the balls to stand up for LGBT Americans while the federal government, once again, does nothing.
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