This is what anti-LGBTQ housing discrimination looks like

A massive pilot study demonstrates the subtle ways LGBTQ people are disadvantaged when seeking housing.

CREDIT: iStockphoto/vadimguzhva
CREDIT: iStockphoto/vadimguzhva

A new study from the Urban Institute shows that housing discrimination against LGBTQ is a very real phenomenon, but it doesn’t always present itself in obvious ways.

Using thousands of testers in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas, the Urban Institute found that same-sex couples (particularly male couples) and transgender people were generally treated less favorably than similarly situated individuals seeking the same housing. Here are some of results:

  • Housing providers frequently told men in same-sex relationships about one fewer available rental unit than they told men in different-sex relationships.
  • Providers were slightly less likely to even schedule appointments with men in same-sex relationships.
  • When both men or women in a same-sex couple met together with a provider, agents were less likely to tell them about at least one available unit.
  • Men in same-sex relationships were quoted average yearly costs $272 higher than men in different-sex relationships.
  • Transgender people were generally told about fewer units than cisgender testers, regardless of whether they disclosed their gender identity.
  • Providers were less likely to tell transgender people who disclosed they were trans about any available units and told them about fewer units on average.

Lead researcher Diane Levy pointed out in a statement that the effect of this discrimination translates to many aspects of people’s lives. “When people are discriminated against in their housing searches, not only does it go against our collective value of equal opportunity, but it limits their options for where to live, which can affect how they get to work, the schools their children attend, and other facets of their daily lives,” she said.

Though this is the largest study of its kind, it is not the first. A recent study from Suffolk University Law School found similar housing discrimination against transgender and gender nonconforming people in the Boston area. They were more likely to be quoted higher prices, less likely to be shown as many units, and less likely to be offered financial incentives. The participants, however, didn’t even realize they were receiving inferior treatment. According to the largest survey of trans people ever, 23 percent reported experiencing housing discrimination, but far more may have experienced it without realizing it.


A study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development back in 2013 also found discrimination against same-sex couples. Though that study was limited to email inquiries — not in-person interactions — it similarly found that different-sex couples were far more likely to receive favorable responses from housing providers than same-sex couples.

As a pilot study, the new research from the Urban Institute lays the groundwork for new studies to more closely examine how housing discrimination plays out and who is most impacted by it.