The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Monday that it will now require grant applicants seeking HUD funding to comply with state and local antidiscrimination laws that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
"We're using every avenue to shut the door against discrimination," HUD secretary Shaun Donovan said in a statement. "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."
An estimated 20 states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit discriminating against people in housing on the basis of their sexual orientation, and 12 states plus the District of Columbia have the same prohibition on gender identity discrimination, according to a release from HUD.
HUD spokesperson Brian Sullivan said the department had "limited authority" as it specifically relates to LGBT people since cities and states do not have uniformed policies and no federal law protects LGBT people against discriminatory housing
"We can't be making law, but we went as far as we could," he said.
Sullivan added that the adjustment was not a regulatory change but instead an administrative requirement. Traditionally, HUD has required all applicants for competitive grant funding to comply with all applicable federal fair housing and civil rights requirements including those expressed in Fair Housing Act; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The department has been taking a series of steps to make several aspects of housing fairer across the board for LGBT people. In addition to the notice published today, HUD intends to propose new regulations that will clarify that the term "family," as used to describe eligible beneficiaries of HUD's programs, includes otherwise eligible LGBT individuals and couples. Sullivan said HUD was "in the process of developing" this new rule but he declined to estimate when the change might be completed. The department's proposed regulations will clarify family status to ensure that its core housing programs are available to all families, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Authorities at the Federal Housing Administration also intend to instruct lenders that FHA-insured mortgage loans must be based on the creditworthiness of borrowers and not on unrelated factors or characteristics such as sexual orientation or gender identity.
Finally, HUD will commission the first national study of discrimination against LGBT people in the rental and sale of housing. The department is currently seeking online public comment from interested parties in how it might design this new study. Sullivan said the study itself would be "groundbreaking" but that they did not yet know how the information would be utilized once it's collected.
"We are very intent on building a body of evidence and seeing where that leads us," he said.