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Politics
Indian housing funds see no major increase


Despite attempts by tribal leaders to increase funding levels, the budget for Indian housing programs remained steady in the $388 billion omnibus approved by Congress.

The 2005 consolidated appropriations act that passed the House and Senate provides $627 million for grants under the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA). This represented a reduction of $28 million below the current levels and $25 million below the Bush administration's request.

The Indian Housing Loan Guarantee Program fared better. Instead of the $1 million proposed by the White House, Congress provided $5 million under this program in order to subsidize a total of $145 million in Section 184 loans. The amount sought by the Bush administration would have only subsidized $29 million in loans.

Another loan guarantee of $2 million provided by Congress will allow nearly $18 million in loans, according to the report accompanying the bill.

The less than stellar figures represent a disturbing trend for tribal housing advocates. With inflation on the rise, overcrowding six times the national average and unsafe water and sewer systems the norm on reservations, they say the federal government isn't doing enough to provide the 200,000 homes needed in Indian Country.

According to the National American Indian Housing Council, the NAHASDA program needs $1 billion in order to make a difference. Section 184 loans also need to be increased, the organization says.

"The programs were set up to bring much needed private lending into Indian Country, and that is what they are doing," said Chester Carl, chairman of the NAIHC and the director of the Navajo Nation's housing authority, recently.

Muddying the waters is $1 billion in unused funds cited by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Tribal leaders dispute the figure but Congress this year authorized $54 million in rescissions for Indian housing programs.

But NAIHC has hope that the situation can improve. Just last month, President Bush signed the Homeownership Opportunities for Native Americans Act of 2004 into law, making it easier for banks to extend loans for homes on trust lands.

And earlier this year, NAIHC launched an initiative to raise $10 million for the "Housing First for First Americans" campaign. Composed of 19 separate initiatives, the program will help tribal housing staff expand their training, communications, research and assistance; promote homeownership and reputable lenders; fight predatory lending; develop partnerships; and establish national and regional Indian housing centers. A web site for Native homebuyers is also in the works.

Elsewhere in the funding bill, Congress provided $69 million to tribes under the Community Development Block Grant program, $2.4 million to NAIHC, $4 million for Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian institutions and $9 million for the Hawaiian Homelands Homeownership program.

Additionally, Congress provided millions to tribes and Indian organizations through Economic Development Initiative grants. Some, but not all, of the grantees include:

• $525,000 to the Bering Straits Native Corporation for a quarry upgrade.
• $500,000 to the Native village of Shishmaref for barriers. The village is threatened by erosion.
• $1.2 million to Haskell Indian Nations University for a science center.
• $350,000 to the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Montana for housing.
• $250,000 to the Cheyenne River Sioux Youth Project in South Dakota for a teen center.
• $240,000 to the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota for a veterans center.
• $400,000 to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota for a veterans center.
• $250,000 to the Native American Indian Association of Tennessee for a cultural center
• $1.4 million for the Wakpa Sica Reconciliation Place, a project of the Sioux Nation.
• $350,000 to the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota for a cultural interpretive center.
• $300,000 to the United Tribes Technical College for family housing.

According to government statistics, only 33 percent of Native Americans own homes, less than half the national rate and far lower than homeownership rates for other minority groups.

Consolidated Appropriations Act:
Bill Text | Joint Explanatory Statement | HR 4818

Relevant Links:
National American Indian Housing Council - http://naihc.net