Language Access Plan

I. Introduction

The mission of the Portland Housing Authority (PHA) is to provide decent, safe and sanitary affordable housing to all eligible persons and families within its service area.  This Language Access Plan (LAP) is intended to facilitate communication with the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) communities and individuals we serve in order that they may enjoy equal access to all of the PHA’s programs and opportunities.

The purpose of this LAP is to assist PHA staff in providing meaningful access to PHA’s programs and activities by persons with LEP.  PHA is committed to complying with federal requirements in providing free, meaningful access for its LEP clients.  No LEP client will be denied access to a PHA program because the client does not speak English or communicates in English on a limited basis.  In order to ensure meaningful access to our programs and activities by LEP persons, we have undertaken an individualized analysis that assesses our responsibilities.

While English is the primary language for the majority of Portland residents, persons who have difficulty speaking English are at a severe disadvantage accessing services.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau: State and County Quick Facts (The U.S. Census Bureau : State and County Quick Facts website, updated in 2019, 13.2%  percent of persons age 5 or older  of Portland’s 66,408 residents speak a language other than English at home. Substantial anecdotal evidence gained through experience indicates that the PHA likely serves or could serve to varying degrees all LEP client populations that live in or seek to resettle in the area.  The nature and magnitude of LEP assistance provided by the PHA should reflect these realities.  

II. Four Factor Analysis

A. Determine The Number or Proportion of LEP Persons Served or Encountered in the Eligible Service Area by using one or more of the following

  • Provide questions on an initial application to determine if the applicant needs language services.
  • Log the language and amount of time each applicant, resident or participant uses at points of contact and service.
  • Record and analyze data from the Demographic spreadsheet that PHA provides to HUD at the beginning of each Fiscal Year.
  • Record and analyze data from the most recent U.S. Census Bureau for the City of Portland.

B. The Frequency with Which LEP Individuals Come in Contact with the Program

Each Department shall track and record requests for language assistance, service provided (interview, hearing, briefing, etc.) and who provided the language services e.g., bilingual employee, contract vendor, or telephone interpreter services.

C. The Nature and Importance of the Program, Activity, or Service Provided by the Program

Decent, safe and sanitary affordable housing is of primary importance to everyone, and as such, requires that the PHA take appropriate steps to ensure that its programs are equally available to LEP individuals.  Once housed, certain aspects of occupancy such as health and safety issues and lease compliance are critically important; other aspects of tenancy, such as community newsletters and recreational opportunities, are of less importance.  The PHA’s LAP should take these varying degrees of importance under consideration so that each aspect can be addressed as appropriately as possible with the limited resources available. 

D. The Resources Available to Recipient and Costs

Departments should determine if it is more cost effective to re-assign staff, hire qualified bilingual staff or contract with vendors to perform routine duties that require interpretative services.  Departments that provide direct services to residents, participants and applicants shall make every effort to provide interpretative services through the use of qualified bilingual staff members, contracted interpreters, or telephone interpreter services.

III. Language Assistance

A. Interpretative Services (Oral Language)

Each PHA department office or location, that provides direct services must provide oral interpretation upon request and at no charge to LEP persons at points of contact and service to ensure meaningful access to PHA’s direct services.   PHA shall notify all applicants, residents, and participants of their ability to request an interpreter in notices from PHA for hearings, interviews, scheduled appointments, and adverse action.  If necessary, appointments/interviews/hearings/conferences may need to be rescheduled to a later date in order to provide language assistance services.

Types of activities for which interpretive services must be offered to LEP persons include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Eligibility Interview
  • Housing Offer and Lease Signing
  • Formal Hearing for Denial of Admission to Public Housing
  • Informal Hearing and Formal Hearings for Termination of Public Housing
  • Nondisclosure and Termination Hearings for HCV Participation
  • Interviews Regarding Annual and Interim Rent Recertifications
  • Transfers
  • Reasonable Accommodation Requests

PHA staff is prohibited from requiring or asking LEP persons to bring their own interpreter.   If an LEP person requests that an adult family member or friend (18 years of age or older) provide interpretation, this practice is acceptable only if it is his/her choice.  The employee must advise the LEP person about the availability of free language services and document in writing if the LEP person still chooses to have his/her own interpreter.  The LEP Person and their interpreter must sign a document that they agree to waive their right of free interpreter services provided by PHA.  If the LEP person wants their own interpreter, PHA may also have their own interpreter present. 

PHA staff will document in the LEP person’s file when an interpreter is used during the application and termination process to a PHA program or during a Public Housing grievance procedure.

Outside resources may be used for interpretive services at informal events e.g., Resident Council Meetings or Community Clean-Up Days.  Outside resources may include community volunteers, PHA residents or Section 8 participants.  

Any interpreter may be used in an emergency situation.  PHA should first respond to the emergency and follow-up with language assistance as appropriate.

B. Translation Services (Written Language)

Provision of written translations should be determined by closer analysis of client populations, taking into account numbers of clients within each language category, the importance of individual documents and the availability of adequate resources to compile and maintain these translations.  Provision of written document translations shall be considered on a case-by-case basis and supported by the results of regular in-depth reviews of LEP client population characteristics.  At a minimum, all important documents including those related to initiating, continuing or terminating a tenancy will be orally translated by interpreters when presented.  All other significant documents will be accompanied by written notice, conveyed in the primary languages spoken by the client population, communicating the right to have the document translated and how to request the translation.  In those instances where written translations would prove necessary for access to its programs, the PHA will provide on an as-needed basis vital documents in languages other than English.  Due to the fact we have over 40 countries represented in our population, it is difficult to evaluate which language to attend to for translation of vital documents.  Annually, PHA will re-assess the data collected pursuant to section II above, and determine pursuant to applicable federal guidelines and the Four Factor Analysis whether Important Documents should be translated into other languages, or whether certain languages may be dropped from the requirement.  Further, some notices contain individualized facts which would be impractical to translate in every instance because of their frequency and the associated cost and time involved.  Examples include Notices to Quit, Summary of Discussions of Informal Hearings, Hearing Decisions, and Notices of Denial of Application.  In these circumstances, PHA will advise the notice recipient how to obtain interpretive services and/or provide a translated summary of the document in covered languages.

IV. Staff Training

The PHA will provide training to appropriate program staff on the policies and procedures of its respective language assistance activities.   

Training will include:

  • An overview of PHA’s LAP Plan
  • How and when to access language services through telephone interpretative services, a contract vendor, or a bilingual staff member.
  • How to work with an interpreter
  • Prohibition against requiring or asking any LEP person to bring his or her own interpreter
  • Cultural Sensitivity

The general procedure for PHA staff when using an interpreter shall be:

  • State the purpose of your communication and describe the type of information you may convey.
  • Speak in short sentences, expressing one idea at a time and allow the information to be interpreted.
  • Speak to LEP client and not to the interpreter.
  • Avoid using slang terms and acronyms.  If you must do so, please explain their meaning.
  • Provide brief explanations of technical terms, such as recertification, minimum rent, MEID, etc.
  • Occasionally ask if the interpreter understands the information or if you should slow down or speed up your speech.  If the interpreter is confused, the client may also be confused.
  • Occasionally ask if the LEP client understands the information.  You may have to repeat or clarify some information by saying it in a different way.
  • Be patient and thank the interpreter. 

V. Monitoring/Tracking

The PHA will institute procedures to monitor the accessibility and quality of language assistance activities for LEP persons in it conducted programs and activities.  Monitoring will be accomplished on an ongoing basis to ensure that the language assistance provided by the PHA adapts to changing client demographics and needs.   This will be accomplished by:

  • Supervisors of each department monitoring the implementation of the PHA’s LAP and coordinating its annual update.
  • Ensuring the language assistance services provided by the department are tracked as follows:
    • A summary report of the number of PHA clients who are LEP
    • A summary report listing the languages used by LEP clients
    • A determination as to whether a percentage of the PHA’s clients speak a specific language requiring the translation of documents as provided in section III.B above.
  • Identifying staff who may require training on the delivery on language services, e.g., new hires, employees new to a department.  
  • Provide the Executive Director with updated language assistance service needs of each Department.

VI. LAP Plan Distribution and Public Posting

The LAP Plan will be:

  • Distributed to all PHA Supervisors
  • Available in PHA Management Offices
  • Posted on PHA’s website: 

VII.  Complaints

PHA employees who receive a report or become aware that an LEP person believes that he/she has not been provided with language assistance services, in accordance with the provisions of PHA’s LAP should report that information to the Maine Human Rights Commission.   The phone number is (207) 624-6290 or TTY users by Maine Relay 711.  Or they can visit the Maine Human Rights Commission at 51 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333-0051.

This plan is available for download as a PDF at this link.