Tuesday, April 1, 2008

So How Does Housing Discrimination Law Work Exactly?

I'm not a lawyer, but I've always been curious how discrimination law works in practice. It seems discrimination is OK in some circumstances but not others. It seems to be OK to offer senior discounts, but not discounts to Finns. Apparently some organizations - like strip clubs, and Hooters - can refuse to hire unattractive people. But others - like Walmart - can't do this.

With housing, it seems fine to build private housing that is marketed to "seniors" but not private housing that is marketed to white people - that would be a red flag, and would certainly trigger lawsuits. So I was amused when I came across this post by A Typical Joe (a great blog where you can always find very thought-provoking material).

It turns out that there is a new, "gay-friendly" housing community in Arizona. The Out Properties Vision Statement starts with "Imagine a place where your neighbors are just like you." Hmmm - can I imagine a community of people just like me - straight white Christian people?

The statement gets a bit more inclusive than that. But not too inclusive. It continues:

It’s an active and vibrant community that invites gays and lesbians and their friends and family to live life to the fullest. We, at Out Properties, know that while activity is very important, home is the touchstone central to life. A real home represents the feeling of safety, acceptance and comfort. This feeling is especially cherished among gays and lesbians because we have worked so hard to earn it.

I'm wondering if there is some vetting process that happens with purchasers, and if it would survive a housing discrimination lawsuit. When you go there and express interest in a home - how do they know you are gay? Do they ask you questions, or do they just assume you are gay because you are interested in living there? And allowing for the "and their friends" part - how do they know you are a gay-friendly straight person?

The development FAQ says:
Who will be living at Marigold Creek?
Anyone who wants to live in an upscale, diverse community of gays, lesbians and their friends and family. Marigold Creek is a welcoming and "straight-friendly" community.
What would happen if a Muslim family, with the wife and daughters in Hajibs, wanted to look at some homes? How can some gay purchaser rest assured that some homophobic bigot doesn't buy the place next door a year after they move in? And if a bigot does move in next door - can you sue the developer for not meeting a promise made to you?

Presumably some of this assumes self-selection on the part of "friends." People generally don't pay cash money for a home to be among people they are prejudiced against. But I'd be surprised to find a similar retirement community for "white people and their friends." There are lots of very segregated communities in the US, but I know of none that are explicitly marketed and promoted as such, other than senior-targeted ones - and this one.

I don’t have any problem with this at all. I think it's great that people can choose to live where they want, and have the type of neighbors they want. I just don’t understand how this is legally possible given housing discrimination laws. Can any lawyer explain this to me?


atypicaljoe said...

On this issue, I think the gays have a pretty good track record. As evidence I would point you to another recent post of mine, religious acceptance is a two-way street, which tells the story of traditionally gay synagogues that are now so well accepted that they are grappling with the high percentage of straight people and their families who want to join. Their conclusion is that this is an effective way to gain new allies. And I can tell you that I live in a very integrated neighborhood -- age, race, religion, and sexual identity. More integrated even, I always hasten to point out, than the one I left in NYC. I like to be around people like me, and people who accept me, but not only people like me.

DBB said...

As long as it is all self-selection, they'd probably have no problems.

And I think self-selection would do it - people who really have a problem with homosexuals would likely never want to buy a house in that neighborhood.

Ironically, this is a place where the bigotry institutionalized in the law works in the favor of homosexuals - race discrimination is strict scrutiny type stuff - but sexual orientation - it isn't - it is much lower scrutiny - and in many places bigots have written laws such that discrimination based on sexual orientation is all but explicitly allowed - which means that it is allowed in the OTHER direction as well.

Of course, I'm no expert in this area.

Sweating Through fog said...


Thanks - I didn't know about the different levels of scrutiny.