Vancouver’s Gay Housing Discrimination Problem

August 29th, 2011

A landlord with a cigar, monocle, and top hat, addresses his gay, potential clients: "Thank you sirs. I'll let you know shortly. I am quite particular over who gets to pay my mortgage."

Housing discrimination has always been a little difficult to measure. Yet, even in a city as diverse and vibrant as Vancouver, it’s reported to happen. While it’s illegal to deny a gay couple housing simply because of their sexual orientation anywhere in Canada, proving this kind of discrimination is not easy; landlords don’t normally admit to such prejudice. (At least, not the cowardly ones.)

This is what makes a recent experiment conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia so interesting.

Two professors and 34 students designed an experiment around some housing application letters. The letters were all identical except for a small detail. Some letters indicated a heterosexual couple was interested in the property, while others indicated a gay male couple, a single parent, or a lesbian couple. The letters were then sent to 1,700 different landlords in the Vancouver area.

The results are unfortunate.

Letters that were from the gay male partners were 25% more likely to be rejected than letters from the straight couples—more than any other group. The next-most discriminated group, single parents, were 15% more likely to be rejected.

The results, naturally, depended on the neighbourhood in which the property was located. Vancouver’s West End, for example, which has traditionally been an area favoured by gays, had a much higher acceptance rate of all family types than elsewhere in the city.

Now, considering that Vancouver is a pretty a diverse city, it probably exhibits less discrimination than elsewhere in Canada. In this sense, 25% is a pretty worrying statistic, wouldn’t you say?

The results of the study have been published in the August edition of the academic journal Social Problems.