FHC: Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act Should Be Expanded

The following testimony was presented by FHC staff Joseph Jones at the Michigan Department of Civil Rights public hearing on amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, co-hosted by the Jackson Human Relations Commission.

Jackson MI, May 21, 2012

“The Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan has been enforcing the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act since 1992. We have aided in the successful litigation of 70 cases and helped to secure over 100 accommodations and modifications for people with disabilities.  Our office serves 6 counties in southeastern Michigan; including Jackson and Ingham, which were recently added to our service area in 2008.

Our office firmly believes that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act should be expanded to include protections for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender persons. Currently twenty-one states prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, unfortunately Michigan is not among them. We agree with Senator Rebekah Warren’s proposed changes which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the act.  By adding these two classes the scope of the Act would increase, allowing it to better serve Michigan by protecting more citizens.

In 2007 we released a report by several Michigan-based fair housing centers titled “Sexual Orientation and Housing Discrimination in Michigan.” This investigative study found evidence of discrimination against same-sex couples in over a quarter of tests performed. In 2011 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) referenced our report in their proposed rule “Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs – Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity” and again in 2012 when the rule was published.

The following is an excerpt from our report:

…in Michigan where fourteen [now eighteen] cities, including Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Ann Arbor, include sexual orientation protections in their local ordinances.

This patchwork of local ordinances in Michigan cities acts more as a welcome mat than an enforcement tool. Enforcement, typically handled by the city attorney or local human rights commission, often takes the form of “dispute resolution.” …[Only] two cities, Ann Arbor and Saginaw, [allow] discrimination victims to bypass th[is] city complaint process and go directly into district court.  

Without the civil rights protections based in law, it is not illegal to deny housing to families and individuals, simply based on a landlord, property manager, real estate agent or mortgage lenders’ personal bias regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.

I am pleased to report that the Fair Housing Center has been successful in pursuing cases of housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, by using Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of marital status and/or the Federal Fair Housing Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex. We will continue to use these tools to fight discrimination, but we urge the MDCR to work towards amending Elliott-Larsen to include these important provisions. We believe LGBT housing discrimination is underreported – which means there are many more instances of LGBT discrimination in our communities than the ones we know about and are able to help. It is our state’s responsibility to help end this injustice.

As mentioned 18 cities, including – Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Detroit – have local prohibitions against LGBT discrimination in housing. Jackson however does not; neither do 100s of other cities and towns across Michigan. We believe that all LGBT people, regardless of their location in the state, deserve protection from unjust and demeaning discrimination. It is clear that sexual orientation and gender identity have nothing to do with a person’s ability to pay rent. Let’s help put an end to legalized discrimination throughout the state by adding these classes to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Thank you for your time.”

 

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