Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing: The FHA’s Expanding Impact on the LGBTQ Community

Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a final rule that will assist communities that receive federal funds with meeting long-standing fair housing standards required under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA was passed in 1968 to protect underserved and minority communities by prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing.

The FHA as written contains a section known as “affirmatively furthering fair housing,” which requires HUD, and states and local governments that receive federal funds to provide housing-related services in a way that ensures all members of the community they serve have equal access to housing. In 2012, HUD expanded these protections by issuing the Equal Access to Housing Rule, which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status in HUD-funded housing. The Equal Access Rule also strengthens these protections by defining ‘family’ broadly to include families that may not all share a legal relationship, and clarifies that families may not be excluded from housing because a family member is LGBT or is perceived to be LGBT. While these regulations provide the framework for ensuring that all communities can provide safe, inclusive, and affordable housing to their residents, this week’s new fair housing rule clarifies these existing requirements and also strengthens them by providing tools that communities can use to recognize and address barriers to accessing fair housing in their communities.

The new rule requires communities to identify racially segregated housing patterns and publically report their findings. This means that if a fund recipient does not address housing patterns showing signs of segregation by, for example, refusing to include affordable housing options in a predominantly white neighborhood, HUD can penalize the recipient by withholding funding. HUD’s new rule clarifies that the FHA also aims to expand individuals’ access to important community resources that have an impact on the quality of life for residents. Therefore, if a locality chooses to seek federal taxpayer funds, it will have to examine ingrained differences between white communities and communities of color, including crime rates, access to grocery stores and public transportation, and develop a plan to reduce these inequities. This rule is important because it provides tools and oversight to communities who are still in the process of overcoming unequal and unnecessary barriers to housing, a step forward that is critical to the FHA’s promise of ensuring equal opportunity for all.

While the FHA has been the law for more than four decades, the existing system’s method of assessing communities’ adherence to the Act was vague and ineffective, and many state and local governments historically have not lived up to the requirements of the law. Many jurisdictions sought and received taxpayer dollars, but failed to follow through with their obligation to provide services and programs that foster fair housing. Some other local governments have wanted to comply, but felt they lacked specific information and guidance on how to do so. This regulation addresses both types of problems by clarifying the existing rules and also providing new information and guidance.

The families impacted most by lack of access to fair housing are low-income LGBT families, who are also more likely to be families of color, and therefore face additional discrimination and a distinct set of barriers. LGBT families of color have poverty rates more than twice the rate of different-sex families of color, putting them at a higher risk of housing discrimination and making it difficult to find adequate and affordable places to live. The rule’s new tools and reporting requirements, while not directly addressing the LGBT community, will nevertheless help ensure that funding recipients remain accountable for actively combatting unequal access to housing for all communities, stemming from a legacy of segregation and discrimination.