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SF Rule Aims for LGBT Tenant Protections Nationwide

by Matthew S. Bajko
Saturday Mar 8, 2014

San Francisco lawmakers are being asked to adopt a new rule aimed at providing nationwide protections for LGBT tenants.

National developers wishing to build residential projects with 10 or more units in San Francisco would have to disclose if they prohibit LGBT discrimination under a proposal gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos is championing.

According to the ordinance, which Campos plans to introduce Tuesday, March 11 and provided to the Bay Area Reporter this week, developers with projects outside of California would have to list the location of those developments and disclose if they have a national policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for all dwelling units in every property in the U.S. where they have an ownership or management interest.

The policy would apply to the developer's national company and any investors in their San Francisco projects. The city's planning department would include the questions on the applications it requires developers for residential or mixed-use residential projects to submit when seeking approval for their building permits.

"We know in San Francisco there are protections we benefit from, but those protections do not exist in the vast majority of states in the rest of the country," said Campos. "I think it appropriate for us when a developer does a project of a certain size and wants to come here, if they own or manage property in other states we find out if they have policies that protect LGBT people."

There is no federal law requiring such protections for LGBT tenants, though in 2012 the Department of Housing and Urban Development did enact a rule protecting LGBT people seeking housing that is financed or insured by HUD from being discriminated against.

According to HUD, 16 states and the District of Columbia ban housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Another five states ban sexual orientation-based discrimination in housing.

The city lacks the legal authority to require housing developers to enact nationwide policies protective of LGBT tenants, said Campos, whose office has been working with housing activists, LGBT rights groups, and the city attorney's office for months on crafting the ordinance.

Thus, the planning department or planning commission could not automatically deny a housing project because the developer does not have a national policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"We can't require they have these policies, but by having this information, we are trying to hold those developers accountable," said Campos. "Since we are not able to do that, there is something to be said for having the information out there."

San Francisco would be the first city in the country to require developers to disclose this information, said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. She likened the policy to when companies were asked if they offered domestic partner benefits to their employees.

"Some did, and for that, we listed their names, we applauded their efforts, and we asked them to reach out to their colleagues, and we used them as an example," said Kendell. "For those who didn't, there was no punishment, no legal action because it wasn't illegal to not provide these benefits."

San Francisco did require that companies granted city contracts offer domestic partner benefits, which led to a protracted legal fight waged by United Airlines. The city prevailed, and now it is commonplace for national companies to offer such benefits.

"Just asking the question begins a dialogue and essentially draws a line in the sand that says you should think about measuring up to this standard," said Kendell.

Those housing developers that do not may face opposition to their projects from activists and neighborhood groups. In San Francisco, such opposition often derails housing projects seeking city approval.

Last year residential developer Greystar, based in class=st>Charleston, South Carolina, encountered just such a situation with a project it is pursuing on upper Market Street in the city's gay Castro district. In response to community concerns about its plans, the company agreed to expand its national fair housing policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

"To its credit the company did it," said Victor Gonzalez, class=st>Greystar's senior director for western development.

By having the city ask developers about their fair housing policies, AIDS Housing Alliance/SF director Brian Basinger believes it will prompt other companies to follow Greystar's lead.

"This measure will start a dialogue and these developers will say of course we want to provide basic protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity across the country," he said. "We don't need to compel them; I think they will jump on board. This is a structured way of initiating that dialogue."

The proposed ordinance would take effect immediately once signed into law. The city's Human Rights Commission would also be tasked with presenting a yearly report to the Board of Supervisors based on the information gathered by the planning department.

The board's land use and economic development committee will first review the proposed ordinance before it goes to the full board for a vote.

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