Obama Calls for Public Housing for All, Queers and Trans People Included

shaun donovan

Barack Obama didn’t directly bring up the advances he’s tried to make for queer equality in his State of the Union address. Far from calling for marriage equality, as some hoped he would, Obama only used the word “gay” in referring to the diversity of the armed forces; he didn’t even say “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” out loud. But while he may not have been willing to advertise it to all of America’s voting public, this week Obama is making a new federal rule regarding housing discrimination for the LGBT population that’s actually a huge deal.

Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, just attended the National Conference on LGBT Equality in Baltimore on Saturday. While there, he made the announcement that HUD would be specifically increasing protections for LGBT people in terms of housing. Especially for trans people, housing discrimination can be one of the biggest day-to-day problems facing the community, and like many other problems, is often compounded when an individual is poor, of color, or both. In 2011, the National Center for Transgender Equality reported that:

+ Only one in four respondents reported being satisfied with his or her housing situation.
+ One in five did not have stable housing.
+ 13% of respondents reported not feeling safe in their current housing.
+ One third of transgender people were earning $10,000 or less per year (making the housing search especially difficult).

Populations that don’t have the resources for stable housing often rely upon assistance from the department of Housing and Urban Development, but queer and trans people have historically had trouble accessing their help. Before this week, the best they could expect in terms of recourse was the opportunity to file a complaint if they felt they had experienced discrimination. But the newly unveiled Equal Access to Housing Rule clarifies that queer and trans people are owed much more than just being told to fill out some paperwork. The rule calls out and addresses several of the ways in which queer and trans people often experience discrimination, including:

* Prohibiting owners and operators of HUD-assisted or HUD-insured housing from discriminating against an applicant or occupant of a residence based on sexual orientation or gender identity;

* Prohibiting all lenders offering Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in determining a borrower’s eligibility;

* Clarifying the definition of “family” to ensure that otherwise eligible participants in any HUD programs will not be excluded based on marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Equal Access to Housing Rule says that owners of HUD-supported housing aren’t allowed to ask applicants about their sexual orientation or gender identity, makes explicitly clear that LGBT families are eligible for HUD public housing, and forbids mortgage lenders from taking sexual orientation or gender identity into account when making lending decisions.

In a time where many families are barely afloat financially, foreclosures and credit crises have made public housing a more urgent problem than ever. And as in any kind of national crisis, the people who suffer most are those who were already marginalized — like queers, like trans people, like people of color. When the shit hits the fan for everyone, we are the ones who already didn’t have what we needed, and as such need protection and support more than ever. While it seems likely that there are still public housing operators who will refuse access to queer and trans families, and while it seems inevitable that there are still queer and trans people who will desperately need help and not be able to get it, this move could also help people who need a place to live more than anything — life in shelters is notoriously inhospitable to visibly queer and trans people, and sometimes not even an option, especially if the shelter is religiously affiliated. And it’s also a signal that Obama’s administration is aware of the most pressing day-to-day challenges that the LGBT community faces, rather than paying lip service to more politically expedient issues in public. As Donovan said at the conference on Saturday, “Each of us here knows that rights most folks take for granted are routinely violated against LGBT people.” Ultimately, every step that takes us towards being able to count on the rights that most people take for granted is a good one.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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  1. government assistance, whether it’s housing, food stamps, money for rent and utilities, is so obviously essential in our economic system that it seems silly that people argue over this stuff being available to everyone. i mean, really. capitalism encourages businesses to be scrooges with money in terms of wages and benefits in order to increase their bottom so obviously there might be less job than people who need them and less money given to people who have them, which makes it less possible to gain access to essentials, let alone those things that are essential to ‘getting ahead’ (because lbr, eating everyday with a warm roof over head doesn’t actually cut it in the kind of competitive society that capitalism exists in).

    in other words, awesome work, obama. and let’s keep it going.

  2. This is really awesome. Now if only we could change the thing where your parents income is considered on financial aid applications till age 23 even if you get kicked out or don’t live with them and they pay nothing for you. This is a huge problem for people trying to get an education after having their parents cut them off.

  3. Housing is without a doubt one of the biggest issues of the queer/trans community as it stands, so I am truly glad to see movement on this issue from our current administration.

    That said, my work as an outreach worker tells me to be cautious before celebrating. What you wrote is correct – right now, shit is hitting the fan for everyone. I had a huge number of homeless clients in an area where housing simply wasn’t sufficient. I’m not just talking about public housing, but housing in general. Absolutely it is amazing that people won’t be discriminated against (assuming the law is enforced) but it will still be difficult to get housing. I would love the president and his administration to go further, acknowledging the lack of housing options, and putting people to work with a plan to create new public housing units.

    Another point I wanted to bring up deals with the quality of public housing – in my experience, it is insufficient. This may have been due to the demographics of the area I was working (more smokers than average nationally as well as state-wide), but the housing was dirty and smoke-stained. I would like to see quality assured, well-maintained housing options for anyone who needs it.

    A third point worth bringing up is one dealing with funding. Despite the fact that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT in some way (or multiple ways), only 1% of funding goes to this group to prevent homelessness. Even though this change in law is clearly a step in the right direction, it would benefit this community to also receive more equitable funding from that same government.

    • word. there’s such a severe lack of affordable (ACTUALLY affordable, not based on “market rates”) and decent housing in many US cities, and not enough new public housing being built. and don’t even get me started about queer homeless youth…

  4. I can’t believe this l doesn’t exsist yet? Its like the trans* community are being redlined…

  5. This is awesome…..Way to go Obama!

    But on a serious note, whatever his does will never be good enough, and he will still go down in history as the worst president ever! Majority of the people I know in the gay community even hate him.


  6. I personally would not live in a public housing unit. You’d think they be the safest in the nation, but they tend not to be fit for humans to live and are more run-down & dangerous than privately-owned property. I pretty much don’t trust the government to do affordable housing right.

      • Then it’s an unfortunate option that is likely to lead to health problems and possibly emotional/behavioral issues in the future. But of course I would take it.

  7. this is really awesome and I’m incredibly excited about these changes and what they can mean. discussing the quality of the housing in question is important, but in this case it seems beside the point. first of all because this isn’t just about public housing or affordable housing (mortgages, anyone?), but more importantly because this gives homeless queer and trans people – such as myself and other members of my family – infinitely more options.

  8. This is amazing. I just told someone campaigning for marriage equality that his campaign was important, but that it leaves out major practical issues for trans and gender variant folks.

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