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Gays face greater discrimination in Vancouver housing market: study

Researcher says levels could be higher in other cities

Same-sex male couples are 25 percent more likely face to discrimination in the Metro Vancouver housing market compared to straight couples, a newly released UBC Department of Sociology study has found.

“Vancouver has a reputation for tolerance of diversity in North America and a vibrant gay community,” says lead author Professor Nathanael Lauster. “This means that housing discrimination levels may even be higher in other cities.”

The study found no significant differences in landlord responses to female same-sex couples relative to heterosexual couples.

Qmunity executive director Jennifer Breakspear calls the numbers “startling” and higher than she would have expected, but she adds that the centre can use the report to lobby government for assistance with housing issues.

“We’ve long been active with government [on housing issues] with LGBT youth and LGBT seniors, but now it looks like we have to throw into the mix gay men as well,” Breakspear tells Xtra.

“We all know Vancouver is a tight place to find a place to live,” Breakspear adds. “Throw in landlord bias, and you make it almost impossible.”

The study also found single parents are approximately 15 percent more likely to be rejected.

A UBC news release says the research, published in the August issue of the journal Social Problems, is the largest such investigation of housing discrimination, and the first to explore geographic variation in that discrimination. Researchers analyzed nearly 1,700 online rental inquiries in Metro Vancouver. The rate of discrimination varied significantly by neighbourhood.

For example, communities with greater numbers of single-parent families, including East Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster, showed increased levels of discrimination toward single parents. The opposite was found to be true in neighbourhoods with large gay populations, such as Vancouver’s West End and West Side. Statistics from those areas exhibited significantly lower levels of discrimination toward male same-sex couples.

“This suggests that the bases for discrimination against same-sex couples and single parents may differ,” says Lauster. “For gay couples, the discrimination is likely based on ignorance or moral objections that lessen with contact. For single parents, the discrimination may be based more on their real economic marginalization,” he says.

Metro Vancouver’s liberal population and BC’s strong anti-discrimination laws make it an important “hard test case” for rental discrimination in major North American urban centres, says Lauster, who co-authored the study with graduate student Adam Easterbrook. He says more work is needed to ensure that landlords and renters are aware that discrimination by sexual preference or family relationship is illegal in Canada.

The study was based on responses to email inquiries about one- and two-bedroom apartments sent out to landlords advertising vacancies through popular online housing websites like Craigslist.

Inquiries were identical except for minor variations by five family types: heterosexual couples, same-sex male couples, same-sex female couples, single mother with child and single father with child.

The 2006 census data suggests Vancouver has more than 4,700 same-sex couples, representing approximately 10 percent of same-sex couples in Canada.