Translating HUD's LEP Requirements into Practice
In 2007, HUD issued final guidance on helping those with limited English proficiency (LEP) gain access to federally funded services and programs. The guidance called for HUD-assisted housing entities to implement a plan that includes translating “vital” written materials and providing access to competent interpreters (unrelated to the person with LEP) on a timely basis when such services are needed to ensure “meaningful access” to HUD information.
Change 3 to Handbook 4350.3, REV-1, issued in June 2009, includes new references to the requirements related to improving access for those with LEP. But despite the guidance and its incorporation into Change 3, HUD has given site owners and managers few specifics on where it draws the line between compliance and noncompliance. (For the specific LEP references added by Change 3, see New LEP References Added to Handbook 4350.3, REV-1, CHG-3.)
A Bumpy Road to Start
HUD stressed in 2007 that its LEP guidance was not a regulation, per se. It hoped for voluntary compliance. However, as the law firm of Ballard Spahr noted in its “Housing Alert” dated Feb. 7, 2007, HUD did not issue “a clear set of parameters for recipients [of HUD assistance] to follow in satisfying the ‘meaningful access’ objective, relying instead on an analytical framework for recipients to use in assessing how best to achieve the objective in a manner specific to the recipient's programs and activities.”
Many in the housing industry expressed concerns from the start, including organizations such as the National Leased Housing Association and the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. Language in the guidance was vague; the meaning of what constituted “vital documents” was unclear. The potential administrative and financial burdens worried site owners and managers. Those in geographic areas with large LEP populations also feared facing a complex process to address translation and interpretation needs.
In 2008, the National Multi-Housing Council and the National Apartment Association took their concerns about LEP to the courtroom. The two groups challenged HUD's final guidance, claiming that it was, among other things, “unlawfully vague and overly burdensome.” Their complaints were dismissed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, where the judge ruled, essentially, that the guidance is a “non-binding, malleable standard that imposes no requirements” on the housing groups' members. Furthermore, the judge noted, HUD can not base any enforcement action on the final guidance.
Making It Work
Since those early days, many housing agencies and sites have undertaken good-faith measures to make their programs and services more accessible for LEP populations. They are attempting to evaluate their community's LEP-affected population, establishing LEP policies, and training their staff to work with LEP persons.
After issuing the final guidance, HUD did determine that the only HUD-created document it considers to be vital is the lease. That established the guideline for the lease to be the only document that HUD expected housing providers to translate. However, as the guidance indicates, housing providers also are expected to consider translating other documents that will help to ensure “meaningful access” to their relevant information.
That certainly varies by site and depends on your resources. Josh Meehan, senior program manager at Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) in Massachusetts, notes that his agency has taken numerous steps to meet LEP needs in the local community. It has published its LEP policy in a section of the Web site designed for residents. He says that his agency is in the process of translating select parts of the Web site into the top three languages spoken by LEP persons at its sites: Spanish, Portuguese, and French/Haitian Creole. “We do try to make our program material as accessible as possible,” Meehan says. “It's an ongoing process, a learning process.”
Some of CHA's housing is tied to HUD's Moving to Work (MTW) program. Meehan points this out because he says that his agency feels that the relaxed rules that apply to MTW mean they should try even harder to be accessible. “We believe we have an increased responsibility to the community,” he says. “We're trying to put not just forms out there, but more program material… material that's informational but not necessarily a LEP requirement.”
CHA offers those with LEP considerations the assistance of interpreters as needed and makes use of a telephone interpreting service as needed. The agency also has staff members who speak the top three languages of their community need.
It's a balancing act, but one all sites are facing as they tackle LEP issues. “Translation is expensive,” Meehan says, “so we can't do everything. The Web site is an example of something we thought has value for the community. More and more people are using the Internet, so it's helpful for applicants and saves time for us.”
Josh Meehan: Senior Program Manager, Cambridge Housing Authority, 675 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139; (617) 864-3020; firstname.lastname@example.org.
New LEP References in Handbook 4350.3, REV-1, CHG-3
Specifically, Change 3 added the following references to the Handbook:
Chapter 4: Waiting List and Tenant Selection
4-12. Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing and Fair Housing Poster
When a property is initially leased, or when available units cannot be filled from applicants on a waiting list, or no waiting list exists; the owner must advertise to attract eligible applicants in the market area who are least likely to apply. Advertising must be directed to all potential applicants regardless of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin.
4. **The owner's responsibility to market projects to those least likely to apply includes marketing to the LEP population in the community.**
Chapter 6: Lease Requirements and Leasing Activities
6-4. Leases and Lease Attachments—General
A. This section identifies the regulatory requirements regarding an owner's lease and the lease attachments, including the lead-based paint disclosure form, house rules, and pet regulations. It also describes procedures for meeting these requirements, identifying which procedures are required and which are optional. Throughout this section, the differences in policies and procedural requirements across the four model leases are identified.
**NOTE: The leases may also need to be conveyed in languages other than English for LEP persons, when applicable, in accordance with HUD guidance, Final Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons, published in the Federal Register on January 22, 2007.**
6-27. Briefing with New Tenants
C. Conducting the Briefing Meeting
If owners decide to conduct a briefing with new tenants:
1. They are advised to conduct the briefing before the tenant signs the lease to make sure that the tenant has a good understanding of his/her obligations and responsibilities prior to move-in.
2. They must make sure that the presentation is clear. If at all possible, it is suggested that the presenter use visual and media aids such as slide presentations and charts to conduct the briefing. **This information may also have to be conveyed in languages other than English for LEP persons, in accordance with HUD guidance.**
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