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Tribal housing leaders object to Bush budget cut

Tribal housing leaders from across the country came to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to protest cuts in President Bush's latest budget.

The National American Indian Housing Council provides training and services to help more than 220 tribes and tribal housing entities build homes for tribal members. But Bush's fiscal year 2007 budget eliminates the $2 million in funding the organization currently receives from the federal government. Even that amount is down from the $4.6 million appropriated in 2005.

"Our people have the most urgent and severe housing needs of any group," said Chester Carl, the chairman of the NAIHC and the director of the housing authority for the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the country.

According to government figures, at least 200,000 homes are needed in Indian Country. Overcrowding is severe and many tribal communities, particularly those in Alaska, lack adequate infrastructure.

To help change the situation, NAIHC provides training and technical assistance to tribal housing organizations. Regional representatives said the services enable them to put tribal members in homes.

"Many of the successes that we have had in dealing with the lack of capital, the lack of services and the lack of infrastructure, have been a direct result of the training and technical assistance that we received," said Scott Jones, a director from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in South Dakota who represents a region with about 150,000 tribal members.

Among the issues NAIHC is tackling is methamphetamine use. More than 2,000 people have attended training sessions to learn how to deal with the impacts associated with a drug that is ravaging Indian Country.

"Our own reservation had three meth labs," Juana Majel, of the Pauma-Yuima Band of Luiseo Indians in California, said at the National Congress of American Indians winter session, also held in Washington this week. "It costs $35,000 each to clean them up." Majel serves as secretary of NCAI.

Beyond NAIHC's cut, the Bush administration has not requested any significant increases for Indian housing. Most programs will remain funded at current levels. When inflation, demand for housing and rising costs of labor and materials are taken into account, advocates say fewer homes will be built.

"Level funding is just another word for a cut," said Casey Sixkiller, an aide to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), who was scheduled to attend the housing conference yesterday but was unable to make it due to votes taking place on Capitol Hill.

The only major exception, as NAIHC has pointed out, comes to the Section 184 Loan Guarantee program The 2007 budget seeks $5.9 million, up from $4 million, to help more American Indians and Alaska Natives become homeowners.

Federal officials have called the program a success. At NCAI this week, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson said over 600 loans, worth more than $100 million, were backed last year. The goal this year is to guarantee over 1,000 Section 184 loans.

"It wasn't long ago that you couldn't apply for a loan. All these impediments were in your way," Jackson told tribal leaders. "That all changed," he noted, "with the Indian housing loan guarantee program, Section 184."

At NAIHC yesterday, Carl said tribes are managing federal funds responsibly. In 2005, the money was used to build, acquire, or rehabilitate nearly 5,500 homes and over 1,000 rental units, he said.

HUD officials had been claiming that more than $1 billion in Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act funds were going unused but the new official in charge of public and Indian housing told a Senate committee earlier this month that the figure has been reduced by 50 percent.

"This momentum needs to be sustained as we continue to work together toward creating a better living environment in Native American communities," assistant secretary Orlando Cabrera said on February 14.

Housing Budget Table:
NA/AN & Native Hawaiian Housing Budget & Appropriations Chart (NAIHC)

More Documents:
Regional Tribal Housing Leaders Statements | NAIHC Senate Testimony

Relevant Links:
Office of Public and Indian Housing, HUD -
National American Indian Housing Council -