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Tribes challenge policy affecting federal housing funds
Tuesday, May 4, 2004

A federal policy that distributes housing dollars based on the U.S. Census rather than tribal enrollment would hurt reservation communities, tribal leaders said on Monday.

The 2000 Census count was considered the most accurate in history. It showed a dramatic increase -- 26 percent -- in the American Indian and Alaska Native population both on and off the reservation.

But at a Congressional hearing held on the Navajo Nation, tribal leaders said linking federal dollars to the Census was unfair because more money would go to areas where people who identified themselves as Indian may not be tribally-enrolled.

They also pointed out that the Census, for the first time, allowed people to claim multiple racial heritages. Going by this set of figures, the Native population grew by 110 percent.

But that doesn't mean reservation communities, where overcrowding and inadequate infrastructure are prevalent, will see that large of an increase in housing funds, tribal leaders testified. Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. said his tribe would lose $5.7 million because the Census showed only 180,000 Navajos even though the tribe has about 310,000 enrolled members.

The policy, Shirley warned, "will have a devastating impact by reducing funding allocations for Indian housing on many reservations, severely hurting Native Nations."

Concerns were echoed by Chad Smith, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, the second largest tribe in the country based on an enrollment of about 240,000. "This use of census information should be used as long as it approximates citizenship," he told lawmakers.

"Many people self-identify with a certain tribe but are not actually members of that tribe. Therefore, use of this data instead of tribal enrollment data does not provide accurate information for determining the funding needs of a tribe," added Kathleen Kitcheyen, chairwoman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona.

The tribes called on the House Financial Services subcommittee on housing and community opportunity to look into the matter. At the urging of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), whose district includes parts of the Navajo, San Carlos Apache and White Mountain Apache reservations, the panel held its first ever hearing in Tuba City, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation yesterday.

"The result [of the hearing] will mean greater financial, insurance and mortgage programs and improved infrastructure development for the Native American people," Renzi said.

The policy came about through a negotiated rulemaking committee between tribes and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Although tribes expressed concern about using the Census data, HUD officials decided to use the figures to determine distribution of the Indian Housing Block Grant Program, a $647 million pot of funds.

Smith argued that there is some merit in using data of single- and mixed-race Indians due to undercounting by U.S. Census Bureau. "We support any system that is verifiable and reliable that best reflects the number of citizens of federally recognized tribes and Alaska Natives for specific formula areas," he testified.

Russell Sossamon, chairman of the National American Indian Housing Council, also called for more clarity. He has already asked housing subcommittee for a hearing on the issue.

"Some believe [the policy] has generally shifted funds from the more sparsely populated tribal reservation-based areas to areas which, while less remote, have greater population, and that this is an inequitable shift in the program," he told the lawmakers.

Under the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act, tribes can supply their own census numbers to HUD. The result has helped some tribes triple their share of housing funds, according to published reports. But the process is lengthy and not all tribes are able to complete it.

Historically, American Indians and Alaska Natives on and off reservations have been the most undercounted population. In 1990, some 12.2 percent of reservation residents were left off the Census. The 2000 Census showed a net undercount of 4.74 percent for on-reservation Indians.

"Whether the conflict is over what is the best policy and which data best represents tribal populations, the simple fact is that our tribal population was not accurately counted and represented in the 2000 Census," said Wayne Taylor Jr., chairman of the Hopi Tribe of Arizona, at the hearing. "The end result will be the loss of considerable housing funds to the Hopi Tribe at the expense of more funding to those tribes that benefit from the multi-race formula."

Hearing Documents:
Written Witness Testimony (May 3, 2004)

From the Indianz.Com Archive:
Census report dives into Indian Country (February 15, 2002)
Census paints new picture of Indian Country (March 13, 2001)

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

Related Stories:
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Tribes tackle budget woes under Bush administration (4/14)
Budget resolution barely clears House vote (03/26)
Tribal leaders denounce BIA budget plans as reckless (03/24)
Cuts run deep for tribal programs at BIA (03/09)
Housing campaign seeks to build 100,000 homes (02/27)
Senate panel shares criticism of Bush budget (02/12)
Tribal leaders pressing Congress on funding (02/11)
Native American Bank offers new mortgage program (01/21)
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