Is Housing Discrimination Really A Problem For Homosexuals?

Over the weekend, in reading reports about Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s decision to support gay marriage (made, conveniently, after election day) I saw where Senator Heitkamp claimed that concern over discrimination was a big part of her motivation.

Earlier this year we had a debate in the state legislature over adding homosexuals as a protected class under state law, and during that debate many supporters of the change gave the impression that housing discrimination against gays is rampant. “It’s the least we can do as a city,” said Rep. Corey Mock, a Grand Forks Democrat, in favor of his city’s efforts to ban housing discrimination against gays. “People are getting fired and evicted because of who they love.”

But are they, really?

I spoke with Labor Commissioner Tony Weiler earlier today, and he told me that his department hears very, very few complaints about housing discrimination because of sexual orientation. He added a caveat – and this is entirely fair – that many who feel they have been discriminated against may not be speaking up because they feel they don’t have standing under current law.

Still, Commissioner Weiler told me that he estimated during testimony before a legislative committee that such complaints might make up 2-4% of housing discrimination complaints in the state.

That’s not a high number when you consider the rather small number of discrimination complaints for both housing and employment the state handles annually. Keep in mind that these numbers are for cases closed, and that often times cases are closed without finding any fault on behalf of the landlord/employer (the full reports are available here, here and here.

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If we take the high-end of Commissioner Weiler’s estimate and apply it to the year with the most complaints about housing and employment discrimination we’d be talking about less than 5 instances of housing discrimination and about less than 15 instances of employment discrimination over the course of a two-year biennium.

And again, we’re talking about charges of discrimination. Accusations, not necessarily real instances of discrimination.

That’s hardly the epidemic certain Democrat legislators made it out to be, which is no doubt while their anecdotes about discrimination based on sexual orientation rarely contained specifics.

But, admittedly, this is speculation because North Dakota doesn’t have a formal law in place. So let’s look at a place where a formal law does exist. Commissioner Weiler provided me with information about housing discrimination he obtained from our eastern neighbors in Minnesota.

You can see the numbers below, but in a state with roughly 5.37 million citizens (roughly 7.5 times larger than North Dakota) they get about 30 to 50 complaints about housing discrimination because of sexual orientation a year, which makes up about 3.4% to 6% of total complaints.

That despite the Minneapolis/St. Paul area having one of the highest percentages of homosexuals in the nation.

I have no beef with homosexuals. I find discrimination against them repugnant. But complaints about discrimination against homosexuals seem overstated, and they’re a little hard to believe given not just the data but also the price the free market puts on discrimination.

If there’s one thing employers and landlords like, universally, it’s making money. So how many of them are going to turn down qualified renters, or qualified employees, because of anti-homosexual bigotry?

Not very many, it seems, based on the numbers.

Housing Discrimination in Minnesota

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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