Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

LGBTs voice housing
concerns at HUD town hall


Cecilia Chung, chair of San Francisco's Human Rights Commission, welcomes attendees to HUD's town hall meeting on LGBT housing issues. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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About 80 people gathered at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center on Monday, March 1 to talk about the challenges that gay people face when it comes to housing.

The town hall was planned so people could help representatives of the federal Housing and Urban Development department think about the scope of an upcoming, unprecedented national survey on housing discrimination against LGBTs related to sale and rental housing.

Raphael Bostic, Ph.D., HUD's assistant secretary for policy development and research, heard several people talk about outright discrimination, and many people also spoke about how poverty and the lack of affordable housing are related problems.

"This is something very important to HUD and very important to our communities across the country," said Bostic, who is openly gay.

Officials want "to make sure discrimination doesn't happen to any of our citizens," he said.

John Trasvina, assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity at HUD, noted that San Francisco and California anti-discrimination policies are "way ahead of everybody else," and federal law doesn't directly protect people from housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Trasvina said hiding their identity is "a cost no American should have to pay."

Many in the room expressed frustration over the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage and limits HUD's definition of family. Bostic said the agency is exploring changing that definition.

Cecilia Chung, who chairs the city's Human Rights Commission, said that last year the commission received 641 complaints on housing discrimination, and she estimated that 10 percent of those were HIV- or LGBT-related.

Melanie Nathan, who sits on the Marin County Human Rights Commission, shared several examples of discrimination. In one instance, she heard of an apartment complex that wouldn't rent a unit to three men because they "might give AIDS to everyone in the complex."

Brian Basinger, founder and director of AIDS Housing Alliance/San Francisco, said it was also important to look at access to housing resources, since rates of poverty in the LGBT community "are different from the mythology" of wealthy gays.

Basinger noted the need for groups like the Mission Economic Development Agency for the LGBT community.

The need to ensure that transgender people and seniors are included was also emphasized at the town hall.

Bostic said the scope of the survey "is going to be as large as it needs to be."

The town halls are designed to inform HUD as to how to approach the baseline study. Once officials have arrived at the design of the research, paired "testers" will seek to document housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity following the study's design.

How the agency approaches the study will directly impact any subsequent evidence-based policy changes, so the town halls are seen as critical.

HUD is the country's housing agency and, among other things, works to sustain home ownership and create affordable housing opportunities for low-income Americans. HUD's public housing and voucher programs help more than 3 million families to rent an affordable home.

A public meeting on LGBT housing discrimination has also been held in Chicago, and another is planned for New York on March 15. HUD will also provide a chance for public comment for people living outside those metropolitan areas.

Bostic said at the town hall that people would be able to comment through the Internet and e-mail. He previously told the Bay Area Reporter that HUD is contemplating doing webcasts to give broader access to the discussions.

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