In The Wake of Sandy, Housing Discrimination

Dear Dr. Darcy:

Hi I [have] been displaced due to hurricane Sandy and lost everything. I have been staying in a FEMA paid hotel and [am] having a hard time looking for housing. I [met with a real estate agent] and they either don't want kids (I have an 8 year old with special needs) or when I tell them it's for my wife, they say there is nothing available. I believe this is housing discrimination. I don't know where to turn to. I have to leave the hotel [very soon]. I'm stressed and in dire need of resources. I don't know what to do.

ANSWER

The extent to which it is illegal to withhold housing on the basis of sexual orientation or disability varies from state to state. The Federal Fair Housing Act (42 U.S. Code §§ 3601-3619) prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, familial status (having children), and physical or mental disability (including alcoholism and past drug addiction).  In 2003, New York State enacted the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), making it illegal for someone to refuse housing to an applicant based on sexual orientation. So the bottom line is that in NYC, which is where you are, housing discrimination is illegal.

There are 2 things to do and I’m going to prioritize them for you: First, you need to find housing. Get yourself a gay realtor.  Google the term ‘gay realtor’ and up will come agencies and individuals specifically dedicated to meeting the needs of members of our community.  That should fix the housing situation. The second thing you should do is file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights (linked to here). Select How to file a complaint and report the douche bags who discriminated against you to ensure that others don’t suffer as you have.

I am so sorry that you have been displaced due to Sandy. My wife and I were also displaced for a short amount of time. We received FEMA funds and were offered a FEMA hotel (which didn’t take animals…not a perfect system), so I empathize with you more than I can express.  Get your housing situation under control and call 311 to find out if you can receive free counseling services to help put these awful weeks behind you. If you come up empty handed, contact me directly and I'll work with you pro bono. Wishing you the best of luck.

Writer's stats: Female, Gay.