About 15 people attended a forum called "The LGBT Community and Emerging Fair Housing Rights" to discuss new housing protections for the LGBT community at the Maze Branch of the Oak Park Public Library April 26.
Speakers included Rob Breymaier of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center; Susan Greenberg of the Berwyn Community Relations Commission; and Donna Karpavicius of Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association ( OPALGA ) and Weichert Realtors.
Breymaier outlined what the center does before explaining what the new regulations mean for the LGBT community. He noted that in January, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ( HUD ) added new regulations that forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status.
Breymaier explained that these regulations extend to housing developments funded all or in part from Community Development Block Grants ( CDBG ) , HOME investment partnership programs, or other HUD funds; the facilitation of housing choice vouchers ( section 8 ) ; public housing; shelters and transitional housing; and Federal Housing Administration ( FHA ) -insured mortgages.
These new regulations do not change the rules with regard to any housing without HUD support or insurance and enforcement of this regulation is not referred to the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Breymaier emphasized.
Breymaier also told the attendees that Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has introduced an amendment to the Fair Housing Act ( Housing Opportunities Made Equal or HOME Act of 2011 S. 1605 ) . This would add sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or source of income to the list of current protected classes; race, color, national origin, religion, sex/gender, disability and familial status.
Other ways in which the proposed bill would protect individuals from discrimination include strengthening anti-discrimination protections for persons with disabilities and LGBT parents with custody of a child; outlawing housing discrimination both before and after a housing unit is acquired; and providing the attorney general with appropriate pre-litigation investigative power to enforce the law. This law, Breymaier said, would ensure that people are treated fairly and aren't discriminated against for any reason when they apply for housing assistance.
The bill currently has seven co-sponsors, however, neither Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., nor Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., have signed on as co-sponsors. A companion bill ( H.R. 3030 ) , introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., in the House of Representatives, currently has 10 co-sponsorsnone of which are from the Illinois delegation. Breymaier closed by urging attendees to contact their representatives and both Illinois senators to ask them to sign on as co-sponsors.
Greenberg explained what her role is within Berwyn city government and talked about the history of the community relations commission. Commission members are appointed by the mayor and they meet once a month to review complaints about housing discrimination.
"A couple of years ago I applied to the mayor's office to be on the community relations commission figuring that as a lesbian and as someone who understood discrimination but had not been discriminated against I could bring some wisdom to the commission in addition to what was already there," said Greenberg.
Greenberg noted that there had only been two discrimination complaints in the last two years, one of which was due to the person's sexual orientation. One goal of the commission, Greenberg said, was to tone down or resolve these cases before other actors get involved and she said that the commission has been very effective in achieving its goals.
Lastly, Karpavicius spoke about her role as a real estate agent and how it relates to LGBT people seeking housing. She said that she sees less discrimination these days, and when she does see it she is shocked to see it still happening in the Chicagoland area.
Also in attendance were Oak Park Trustee Colette Lueck and Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero. Lovero stated his support for the new protections. Breymaier said he spoke to Lovero about coordinating support in the future.
OPALGA, the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, Berwyn United Neighborhood Gay and Lesbian Organization ( BUNGALO ) , the Village of Oak Park, the city of Berwyn and Weichert Realtors expressed support for the outreach.
See www.liveinoakpark.com and portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD for more information.