Study shows discrimination against trans apt seekers in Boston

A Suffolk University Law School report found that transgender apartment seekers in Greater Boston are treated unfairly despite Massachusetts law prohibiting such discrimination. Graphic courtesy of

“Discrimination with a smile.”

That’s how a new study by researchers at Suffolk Law School describes what transgender apartment seekers in Greater Boston face. Even though such discrimination is illegal in Massachusetts, more than 60 percent of transgender people shopping for apartments are deprived of both financial incentives and the kind of basic options everyone needs to find a place to live.

“Applicants who made clear they were transgender generally received pleasant treatment, not realizing they were not offered the same discounts, amenities, and customer service typically given to applicants who are not transgender,” noted a March 28 Boston Globe report on Suffolk’s study.

“This kind of discrimination is devastating, and it’s happening,” said William Berman, a Suffolk University law professor and director of the school’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program, which conducted the study, told the Globe.

“It affects every single aspect of your life,” Berman said, “to be turned away from a place to live just because of who you are.”

The Globe describes the report like this:

Sixty-six volunteers participated in the study, which included visits to 33 apartments in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Quincy between December 2015 and June 2016.

The Suffolk researchers used a study design similar to one long used by researchers who analyze housing discrimination against people of color. They selected pairs of volunteers, with each person similar in race, age, economic, and marital status. The only difference between them was the factor the researchers were studying: gender orientation.

Similarly, the transgender and gender nonconforming renters were 27 percent less likely to be shown additional areas of an apartment complex, compared with the other study participants. And they were 9 percent more likely to be quoted a higher rental price.

Mason Dunn, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, said the study findings underscore something he and other transgender people have long suspected.

“What this made me realize, as a trans individual, is that I may have faced housing discrimination in my life, and not known about it,” Dunn said.

Dunn said he expects the study findings will prompt transgender people to ask more questions when apartment or house hunting. He hopes they will ask about discounts, additional apartments or houses, and other amenities if they are not readily offered.

Jamie Langowski, assistant director of Suffolk’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program and a coauthor of the study, said she hopes the research sends a strong message.

“Those in the real estate business need to take a hard look at how they are treating every single person who comes to them,” Langowski said. “If they are giving their business card to one person, they should give it to everyone. They need to form good habits.”

The study, “Transcending Prejudice: Gender Identity and Expression-Based Discrimination in the Metro Boston Rental Housing Market,” will be published in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2017.