HUD Releases Study of Housing Bias against Same-sex Couples

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The federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) on Tuesday released its first large-scale, paired-testing study to assess housing discrimination against same-sex couples in metropolitan rental markets via Internet advertisements.

Houses_for_rentThe study–titled An Estimate of Housing Discrimination against Same-sex Couples–finds that same-sex couples experience less favorable treatment than heterosexual couples in the online rental housing market. The primary form of adverse treatment involves significantly fewer responses to e-mail inquiries about advertised units.

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The study’s executive summary indicates legislative protections have a lack of effect:

In states with legislative protections against housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, heterosexual couples were consistently favored over gay male couples in 16.0 percent of tests and were favored over lesbian couples in 15.9 percent of tests.

In states without such protections, however, heterosexual couples were favored over gay male and lesbian couples at rates that were 0.6 percentage points less than those in protected states (that is, 15.4 and 15.3 percent, respectively). Moreover, the net measure for gay male couples relative to heterosexual couples (3.1 percent) was statistically significant only in jurisdictions with state-level protections.

Taken together, those results are surprising in that states with legislative protections prohibiting housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation do not show lower levels of adverse treatment.

Several factors could account for the unexpected findings, the study summary stated. They include potentially low levels of enforcement, the housing provider’s unfamiliarity with state-level protections, or possibly that protections exist in states with the greatest need.

The research also showed that the incidence of consistently favored treatment of heterosexual couples relative to gay male and lesbian couples is similar in magnitude to favored treatment of white homeseekers over black (21.6 percent) and Hispanic (25.7 percent) homeseekers.

The research is based on 6,833 e-mail correspondence tests conducted in 50 metropolitan markets across the United States from June through October 2011.

Perhaps the most important point of the study is that HUD is publicly stating it’s now focused on unbiased treatment of gays and lesbians as they seek rent housing throughout the United States. That might then translate into effective response to any complaints of bias.

HUD also indicated its report is just the beginning of pushing for fair treatment for gays and lesbians seeking rental housing:

This study provides an important initial observation of discrimination based on sexual orientation at the threshold stage of the rental transaction and is a point of departure for future research on housing discrimination against same-sex couples.

You can access both HUD’s executive summary and the full 80-page report here.