- February 20, 2015
Today, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published important guidance further implementing the Equal Access Rule clarifying access to emergency homeless shelters for transgender individuals and reiterating placement and privacy obligations of providers.
Published in February 2012, the Equal Access Rule explicitly prohibits discrimination in HUD funded housing and programs on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the rule failed to prohibit the exclusion of transgender people from gender appropriate housing -- undermining the impact of the rule and ignoring a critical safety concern for transgender individuals struggling with homelessness. Studies have shown that nearly half of transgender people who have sought emergency shelter have been forced to be housed with the wrong gender in order to obtain housing. Even on the coldest nights, when faced with this ultimatum many choose to return to the streets. Of those who do stay in this housing, one in four people report being physically assaulted, and 22% report experiencing sexual assault at the hands of other residents or shelter staff.
The guidance published today states that shelters should provide housing for individuals seeking emergency shelter that corresponds to the gender with which the person identifies. The guidance also strongly encourages providers to take the individual's own views regarding health and safety into account when making these decisions. While providers may take into account health and safety concerns in making assignments, HUD states that providers should not make an eligibility or placement decision based on complaints of other residents. This guidance also prohibits providers from asking unnecessary and intrusive questions of individuals seeking shelter regarding their bodies or medical histories when making eligibility determinations.
Today's guidance serves as a meaningful step towards ensuring that everyone -- regardless of their gender identity-- can access safe, welcoming shelter services. HRC has consistently raised this issue with the Department, and has called on HUD and the Department of Justice to adopt discrimination protections in emergency housing and recently included a call for this in our report on anti-transgender violence. HRC applauds HUD for clarifying these provider obligations, but urges the Department to formalize these important policies through rulemaking.