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Gays and single parents face discrimination in rental housing: UBC study

Even in one of Canada's largest and most diverse urban centres, a new UBC study finds that single parents and male gay couples face more discrimination in Metro Vancouver's rental housing market, compared to straight couples.

The study found that nearly 25 per cent of same-sex couples are more likely to be rejected by landlords seeking renters, and single parents are 15 per cent more likely to be rejected.

UBC sociologists say their research, published in the August issue of Social Problems, is the largest investigation of housing discrimination towards single parents and the first to explore geographic variation in discrimination.

"Vancouver has a reputation for tolerance of diversity in North America and a vibrant gay community," says lead author Nathanael Lauster, a professor in UBC’s Dept. of Sociology. "This means that housing discrimination levels may even be higher in other cities."

The study found that discrimination varied significantly by neighbourhood. In communities with higher levels of single-parent families, like East Vancouver, Burnaby or New Westminster, landlords were more likely to reject single parent tenants.

On the opposite end, neighbourhoods with larger gay populations, like Vancouver's West End, showed significantly lower levels of discrimination toward male couples.

Mark Robins maintains the website and is an advocate for gay rights. He's surprised by the results of the study.

"Even the people undertaking the study, I think, are a little bit shocked by it, just based on their comments. In a region we consider to be quite open and embracing of ethnicity and sexuality, and to see that 25 per cent of gay men are being discriminated against -- it's quite shocking. That's one in four people who would have difficulty finding rental housing, that's crazy."

For the study, researchers say they analyzed nearly 1,700 online rental inquiry responses through websites like Email inquiries were identical except for opposite or same-sex partner mentions and signatures such as "Matt and Kate," "Matt and Kevin" or "Melissa and Kate." Single-parent scenarios referred to a son or daughter instead of partners and the gender of the parent.

Although Vancouver has strong housing laws to protect against discrimination, Lauster says more work is needed to ensure landlords and renters are aware that renter discrimination is illegal in Canada.

Carrie Swiggum is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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