Equality Virginia, the commonwealth’s top LGBT rights organization, and Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Inc. (HOME), a Richmond nonprofit and housing counseling agency, are launching an initiative in April to mark Fair Housing Month by encouraging housing professionals and companies to join Equality Virginia’s “Equality Means Business” campaign as a means of showcasing companies that are LGBT-friendly and demonstrating the importance of nondiscrimination in housing.
Equality Virginia, in coalition with its sister organizations Equality NC and SC Equality in North and South Carolina, previously launched the multi-state Equality Means Business campaign to highlight local businesses who do not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity in who they hire and which customers they serve. All three organizations hope to gather enough supporters to convince reticent legislators in their respective states to pass employment nondiscrimination and public accommodations legislation for LGBT people, something all three states lack. This latest move expands that campaign to the housing market, encompassing realtors, builders, mortgage brokers, rental management companies, homes insurance businesses, or other professionals involved in the industry.
To join, a business or realtor only has to complete a membership form and sign a pledge that they will not discriminate against employees and clients based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Participating firms and individuals will be listed in the Equality Means Business directory and receive marketing materials to signal their support of fair housing.
“Businesses that welcome LGBT customers and clients and take a stand for workplace nondiscrimination deserve to be recognized for moving Virginia, the region, and indeed the whole country in the right direction, said Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish.
“Housing providers are often the first contact that families have with their new location,” added Heather Crislip, the president and CEO of HOME. “It is vital for the housing industry to not discriminate in order to create diverse and thriving communities that are welcoming to all individuals. Housing opportunities should be based on someone’s ability to qualify, not on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Most notably, HOME conducted a three-part housing study in 2014 where researchers conducted 29 matched-pair email tests in the Richmond-area housing market to determine whether renters responded differently to prospective tenants, contrasting the treatment received by a same-sex couple with that received by a heterosexual couple. The study found that same-sex couples were 31 percent more likely to be discriminated against than equally-qualified heterosexual couples when it came to searching for housing.
Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church, Pimmit Hills, Merrifield), the House sponsor of a defeated bill that would have prohibited such discrimination, pointed to the HOME study as evidence that his bill should have passed.
“All Virginians should be treated equally in the housing market,” Simon said in a statement. “This study raises serious doubts as to whether that is true for same-sex couples in Virginia. I look forward to the day when all Virginians are judged on their merits when seeking a place to live and make their home.”
During the 2015 legislative session, the House of Delegates, in particular, was brutal to any piece of legislation that even mentioned LGBT people. A House of Delegates subcommittee defeated Simon’s bill, as well as a separate bill by Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach, Chesapeake) that merely asked whether the Virginia Housing Commission could even conduct a study into the incidence of LGBT housing discrimination.
In the Virginia Senate, a fair housing bill sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Leesburg, Sterling, Herndon) came close to passing in committee but deadlocked on a 7-7 vote when retiring Sen. Chuck Colgan (D-Manassas, Manassas Park, Dale City) was absent for the committee hearing dealing with that bill, thereby killing it for the session.
“It makes no sense to consider someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity when deciding whether to rent or sell a home to them,” Wexton said. “Unfortunately, we know these considerations are blocking housing for LGBTQ Virginians. I plan to reintroduce legislation in 2016 to outlaw this invidious discrimination. In the meantime, housing providers can show their support for these important rights by joining Equality Means Business.”