Salt Lake Reacts to New Fair Housing Provisions

As Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker signed the city’s new anti-discrimination ordinances into law recently, the city joined the majority of the country in saying that intolerance would not be allowed, at least when it comes to your job or your housing.

The fair housing provisions of the new laws prohibit property owners from denying housing to a potential renter or buyer, or from evicting a current renter based on the person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The new Salt Lake City ordinances also ban employers from refusing to hire, or from firing an individual, based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

The recommendation originated from the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission, headed by Commissioner Jon Jepsen who said the Commission, “noticed a significant trend in discrimination against the LGBT community in matters of employment and housing,” and made these recommendations to the City Council this past summer.

The Council held a public hearing on the new ordinances, and several dozen people (including property owners and employers) spoke out in support of the ordinances, saying they were necessary to promote justice and equality in their city. But the new provisions have some worried. Paul Jackson of South Salt Lake was in attendance on the night of the City Council’s vote and rents out a bedroom in his house to college students every year. “I’m just not sure if this makes me comfortable,” Paul said, “as a firm Catholic I’m not sure if I want to be sharing my home with someone who’s gay.” I also had a chance to catch up this week with Lisa Hout who runs an accounting firm downtown with about nine employees. “I don’t like the City coming into my business and telling me who or who not I can employ. It just makes me really edgy.”

However, these fears lay on both sides of the issue. I spoke with several members of the LGBT community who all expressed virtually the same sentiment — that they were tired, tired of being treated as second-class, and having to worry about being fired for something that has no relevance to job performance.

The new ordinances do include provisions that should put both Mr. Jackson and Ms. Hout at ease, however. The new city code provides exemptions to the new laws for religions, government organizations (except for city organizations), small employers (less than 15 employees), property owners who own less than four single family homes and are attempting to sell without an agent or broker, and property owners who are renting out space in their own home.

The City concluded that these provisions created a fair compromise, in which it could enforce equality and anti-discrimination practices within most businesses and housing complexes, while at the same time avoiding what would surely be a lawsuit if it attempted to regulate an individual’s home.

With the LDS Church’s endorsement on these hearings, the City Council voted unanimously in favor of these protections for a large minority in Salt Lake. Has it angered some? Well yes. But America Forever and the Sutherland Institute are always spouting about something aren’t they? Contrary to popular belief, it seems the average person in this state is in complete agreement with the new laws. “I wasn’t even aware it was legal to do those things [discriminate] in Utah,” says Michelle Eden of Sugarhouse, “so I say bravo to them!”

By Salt Lake Digs Contributor, Eric Ethington

Comments are closed.