Proposed HOME Act seeks to prevent housing discrimination against LGBT
Three congressmen recently introduced a bill into the House of Representatives that would revise The Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination against homeowners and renters based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill also protects against discrimination based on the borrower's source of income or marital status. As it stands now, The Fair Housing Act states a landlord, real estate company, lender or bank cannot deny a borrower housing because of their race/color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status or disability. The Housing Opportunities Made Equal Act, also known as the HOME Act or H.R. 6500, would amend the law by adding "sexual orientation, gender identity, source of income, marital status" to the list of nondiscriminatory terms several places within the act. The HOME Act inherently defines all of those terms, as well as redefines the term "familial status" to encompass varying family dynamics. The new definition of familial status would read, "one or more individuals (who have not attained the age of 18 years) residing with — (1) a parent, foster parent, or another person having legal or physical custody of such individual or individuals or (2) anyone standing in (as custodian) of such individual or individuals." This includes pregnant women or anyone in the process of securing legal custody of a child. The bill, introduced by Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), gained public approval from organizations such as the National Fair Housing Alliance. "Housing discrimination runs counter to the American spirit of opportunity, and instead is part of America's dark history of senseless exclusion," said Shanna Smith, president and CEO of the NFHA, in an official statement. "Housing providers can and must only use pertinent factors such as rental history or financial qualifications to make decisions about home seekers." The NFHA statement gave approval specifically to the bill's inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender borrowers, who often face harassment and violence from housing providers and neighbors or home seekers who intend to pay for housing with government assistance. According to a survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, 11% of transgender people reported being evicted due to bias about their gender identity/expression. Inga Sarda-Sorensen, communications director for the task force, said the survey has been conducted, but not yet released. She confirmed a few statistics mentioned on the organization's blog. "While the general population has a homeownership rate of 67%, our survey showed only a 32% rate among transgender people," the task force blog said. As of July 2009, 13 states and the District of Columbia banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and only eight states had laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. "I think it's fantastic," said Lorie Burch, attorney at the Dallas-based Law Office of Lorie L. Burch, of the bill. She defends the LGBT community in civil cases on issues such as hospital visitation rights, rights to power of attorney and employment discrimination. She often fights cases for the civil liberties for gay couples who have civil unions — homeownership and title rights among them. Burch calls the proposed legislation a step in the right direction. "Buying a home is one of the biggest pieces of the American Dream. We in society tell you, 'This is a piece of what you want,'" Burch said in an interview. "This (bill) is now another piece of the wall against (the) LGBT community crumbling." Write to Christine Ricciardi.