NEW YORK CITY — The city needs to do more to provide translation and interpretation services to Asian public housing residents who speak limited English, a new report says.
Despite the New York City Housing Authority’s policies, a majority of Asian residents who speak little to no English are not provided with translators to help them communicate with housing staff and are not given “vital documents” like leases in a language they can read, according to the report, which was released Tuesday by the activist group CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities and the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center.
Also many tenants are unaware of NYCHA’s language access services and have instead turned to family and friends to help them translate documents and meetings, the report found.
Now the nonprofit groups are calling on the city to increase language access services to Asian tenants.
Recommendations in the report include identifying and tracking tenants who speak limited English, arranging for language access services proactively, when possible, and informing tenants of the translation services, according to the document.
Advocates said the inability to bridge the language gap negatively impacts residents' quality of life.
“After talking with hundreds of limited-English proficient Asian residents across NYCHA developments, we’ve found that a lack of translated documents and interpreted services add to tenants’ isolation within the NYCHA community, often preventing them from getting needed repairs, advocating for their health and participating in the NYCHA community effectively,” said Shahana Hanif, a public housing organizer for CAAAV, in a press release.
The report — based on a survey of 221 limited English-speaking NYCHA tenants who spoke Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin and Bangla/Bengali from 14 developments, as well as interviews, Freedom of Information requests and other research — also found that NYCHA’s language services like the Customer Contact Center were difficult to navigate for non-English speakers.
The agency does not identify or track tenants who need those services, the report said, and it concluded that NYCHA did not have enough staff to meet the needs of limited-English speaking Asian tenants.
A NYCHA spokeswoman however, disputed the report’s findings, saying the agency was “committed to ensuring meaningful access to language services for all residents," with both in-person and over-the-phone interpretation services.
The agency currently has two units that handle translation and interpretation, the Customer Contact Center and the Language Access Unit of the Department of Communications.
“We interpreted over 7,500 Chinese-language, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese communications in 2014, and we are reviewing options to further expand access,” the NYCHA spokeswoman said.