HUD Report: Legislation Banning Same-Sex Discrimination in Housing Backfires

Shannon Quick | June 20, 2013 | 10:27am EDT
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( –State and local legislative processes designed  to protect same-sex couples from housing discrimination “do not confer an immediate advantage,” according to a recent report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

An Estimate of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples” looks at the treatment of same-sex couples looking for a rental property via the internet compared to heterosexual couples.

Researchers found that disparate treatment exists, but not in the way HUD expected. “We expect that states with legislative protections will have lower levels of discrimination against same-sex couples than those without protections because of the enforcement mechanism in place,” the report states.

But the data shows that the opposite it true.

“States with legislative protections show slightly more adverse treatment for gays and lesbians than in states without protections,” according to the HUD – commissioned study, conducted by M. Davis and Company over a 14-week period from June to October of 2011.

Other findings reported in the study were somewhat contradictory.

For example, researchers pointed out that: “Discrimination against gay men and lesbians appears to take a relatively consistent form in the rental housing market.”


But they also stated that “the results of the correspondence tests between heterosexual and same-sex couples, disaggregated by metropolitan market size, are not straightforward for either gay male or lesbian couples.”

There are also some grey areas in the language used to identify relationship status. “E-mails from heterosexuals referred to a relationship partner as “husband” or “wife”; e-mails from gay men and lesbians referred to a relationship partner as “partner”.” But in the 14 states participating in the study, five recognize gay marriage on some level, so gay men and lesbians are more likely to refer to their romantic partners as “husband” or “wife,” skewing the results.

The study’s claim that “same-sex couples experience unequal treatment more often than heterosexual couples when responding to internet ads for rental units…and  that gay male couples experience more discrimination than lesbian couples” was based on questions posed to potential landlords.

But rampant discrimination against same-sex couples in housing was not substantiated. “When same-sex couples do receive a response... their treatment by housing providers relative to that of heterosexual couples is roughly equivalent,” researchers discovered.

Unfavorable treatment was measured by whether the tester was told the unit was available, asked to contact the landlord, invited to see the apartment, or received any response at all. But gay men were actually favored in the category of contacting the landlord, receiving .3 percent more favorable replies than heterosexual couples.

Lesbians faired even better, with a .2 percent advantage in being told the property was available, a 1.1 percent gain in favorable replies when they asked to inspect it, and being given contact information by the landlord 1.6 percent more often than heterosexual couples.

“We consider a favorable response to mean a response in which the tester received affirmative values on any of the five outcomes,” researchers noted. So if a gay couple was told that the unit was unavailable, it was listed as a negative response.

The study’s methodology suggests that a landlord is either “heterosexual favored,” “gay male favored,” or “lesbian favored,” but there is no classification for landlords who show no gender-based discrimination.

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