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Language Access

For limited English proficient (LEP) persons, the lack of meaningful language access can serve as a significant barrier to accessing and maintaining housing. For example, tenants may not understand the terms of their lease or house rules that apply, or may face a subsidy termination hearing without access to an interpreter. Housing providers may also refuse to rent to or otherwise discriminate against LEP applicants or tenants due to the languages they speak. Limited English proficiency is not uncommon – in fact, according to 2011 Census estimates, nearly 25 million Americans are LEP. Fortunately, there are laws in place that protect the housing rights of LEP persons. For example, federally assisted housing providers must afford meaningful access to persons with limited English proficiency under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the denial of language access in federally assisted programs and activities constitutes national origin discrimination under Title VI.

Furthermore, the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers—both public and private—from refusing to rent to non-English speakers simply because they do not speak English. Such a refusal constitutes national origin discrimination under the FHA.

Many housing providers do not have policies in place that facilitate meaningful language access. For example, public housing authorities (PHAs) often do not have language access plans in place to assist LEP program participants and applicants. Furthermore, PHAs that do have language access plans in place may not follow their own plans. Failure to implement meaningful language access policies prevents LEP individuals and families from accessing housing on the same terms as English speakers.

NHLP provides training and technical assistance to advocates regarding the housing rights of LEP individuals and families. We also engage in advocacy with PHAs and HUD to ensure that programs are being administered in a way that promotes fair and equal access to LEP persons.

Statutes

  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000d et seq. (prohibits discrimination in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance)
  • Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C.A.§ 3601, et seq. (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race and national origin)

Administrative Guidance

  • Executive Order 13166
    President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 13166 on August 11, 2000, instructing all federally conducted programs to devise language access plans and all federal agencies to create and publish guidance for federally assisted programs to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • HUD Final LEP Guidance
    In compliance with Executive Order 13166, HUD released its final guidance in 2007 on how federally assisted housing providers should implement LEP policies. This document helps explain what housing providers should be doing to provide meaningful access to LEP persons.
  • USDA Final LEP Guidance
    In compliance with Executive Order 13166, USDA released its final guidance in 2014.
  • List of Federally Assisted Programs
    Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers the HUD programs included in this listing. However, the notice is not an exhaustive list.
  • HUD, Office of General Counsel Guidance on Fair Housing Act Protections for Persons with Limited English Proficiency (2016)
    This guidance analyzes potential claims under the Fair Housing Act for adverse housing actions taken against persons who are limited English proficient.

Conciliation and Compliance Agreements

The following list includes examples of Compliance Agreements or Voluntary Conciliation Agreements (VCAs) requiring several housing authorities and one private rental company to create and implement language access plans. Some of the agreements below include the plans themselves. A list of additional VCAs can be found in NHLP’s Language Access Outline.

NHLP Resources

  • NHLP Language Access Outline (2017)
    This outline provides an overview of legal authority and cases related to the housing rights of LEP individuals. The outline features a detailed list of language access and housing settlements.

Trainings

  • Protecting and Advancing Housing Rights for Persons with Limited English Proficiency, Housing California Conference (2017)

Additional Resources