By Lisa Vercauteren, Vice President of Housing Programs
What is LEP, you ask? According to HUD, if one does not speak English as their primary language and has limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English that makes them Limited English Proficient (LEP).
The 2013 American Communities Survey identified 25.2 million persons aged five or older in the United States who are classified as Limited English Proficient. This represents approximately 9% of the total population of the U.S. Each one of these individuals is protected due to National Origin under both the Fair Housing Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, access to services and programs have traditionally been limited by their lack of English skills.
In August of 2000, President Clinton signed an Executive Order that required all federal agencies and recipients of federal funds to develop and implement systems that ensure LEP persons have meaningful access to their services and programs. If you manage a community that receives federal subsidy, this Executive Order requires that you take proactive steps to ensure that an applicant or resident's LEP status does not impact their ability to apply for your housing program or live in your housing community.
In January 2007, HUD published its final guidance to the industry on this topic. In this guidance, HUD recommends that housing providers conduct a four-factor analysis to determine what language assistance can reasonably be provided without imposing an undue burden. Once the four-factor analysis is completed, the housing provider should identify what types of oral and written language assistance they can offer, and how it will be provided. All of this should be recorded in a Language Access Plan (LAP) to be used by employees providing the services.
It is important to note that the Final Guidance is just HUD's recommendation on how to handle this requirement. You are not required to follow these steps exactly, however, you are required to ensure equal access to your programs and services. Having an LAP does not protect you from a civil rights or fair housing complaint, but having an LAP and consistently following it would be strong evidence that you are complying with your civil rights obligations.
It has been almost nine years since the HUD guidance came out. What have you done to address this issue? If the answer is nothing, you are not alone. When talking to NCHM clients, I am finding more than 50% are just secretly hoping a complaint never comes up. I urge you not to wait. It is much better to be proactive than reactive.
If you would like to discuss this issue further, please feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.