On May 21, 2021, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) announced that it had reached a settlement with California-based Cascade Village Apartments II, LP (“Cascade Village”), its management company, FPI Management, Inc. (“FPI”), and FPI’s portfolio manager to resolve allegations that the companies violated the Fair Housing Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the basis of limited English proficiency (“LEP”) and national origin. Specifically, HUD alleged that Cascade Village and FPI failed to provide language access services to Vietnamese residents and retaliated against a Cascade Village employee for advocating for LEP residents to receive oral interpretation services and translated “vital documents.” It is notable that HUD issued a press release to publicize this conciliation agreement because it illustrates certain priorities for the Biden administration, as more fully described below.
The press release points out that the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from discriminating against individuals based on their national origin, among other prohibited bases. It further states that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act also prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance, and requires recipients of HUD funding (such as Cascade Village) to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to affordable housing for LEP persons. (HUD’s position on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and LEP status/national origin discrimination for recipients of federal funding is more fully described in the agency’s 2007 LEP guidance available here.) The press release also contains a key quote from HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary Jeanine Worden:
Everyone who applies for or lives in HUD-assisted housing should be able to access critical information about that housing, such as the application process, the terms of their lease, and the apartment building’s rules….Language must not be a barrier to accessing affordable housing. Under fair housing laws, affordable housing providers have an obligation to make important information available to all applicants and tenants, including people whose primary language is not English.
Under the terms of the settlement, FPI agreed to provide $20,075 in compensation to 73 households residing at the property, with each household receiving $275 in the form of a check or rent credit. In addition, FPI is required to send a notification letter to each household in their primary language notifying them of the agreement with HUD, including that FPI will provide LEP applicants with free oral interpretation services and translated vital documents when required by law. The conciliation agreement defines “vital documents” as “all documents identified in an attachment to FPI’s Language Access Plan dated August 2020, but that document is not linked to the HUD press release. However, Exhibit A to the conciliation agreement, which contains the required notification letter to Cascade Village tenants, indicates that a translated copy of the lease and community rules will be provided to each tenant. FPI also agreed to pay $10,000 to the employee who filed the complaint to resolve the retaliation issue.
This settlement follows on the heels of HUD’s recent issuance of a charge of national origin discrimination against several mortgage modification companies asserting that the respondents engaged in illegal and unfair mortgage modification assistance. As we recently reported, the basis of the charge alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act was that the respondents targeted Hispanic mortgage loan borrowers and thus violated the statutory prohibition against discrimination based on national origin. This second HUD settlement based on national origin and LEP status appears to indicate that the Biden administration will be focused not just on race, but also on national origin matters going forward.