Bill to reauthorize NAHASDA gets first hearing in 114th Congress

A Cherokee Nation housing unit in Oklahoma. Photo from Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a hearing next week on S.710, a bill to reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act.

NAHASDA first became law in 1996 to give tribes greater control over federal housing funds but it expired in September 2013. An update cleared the House in December but the Senate failed to take action before the end of the last session of Congress.

Tribes and tribal organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians and the National American Indian Housing Council, have been pushing for an extension of the law. But some Republicans are objecting to the inclusion of Native Hawaiians in the bill even though Congress has been addressing Native Hawaiian housing issues for decades.

"There are some in Congress who are opposed to including Native Hawaiians because the thought of supporting existing Native Hawaiian programs -- and once again I want to say, in NAHASDA, these are existing Native Hawaiian programs -- would indicate some support for the [federal] recognition for Native Hawaiians," Jackie Pata, NCAI's executive director, said at the organization's winter meeting in Washington, D.C., late last month.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, does not appear to agree with those sentiments. The NAHASDA bill he introduced yesterday reauthorizes Native Hawaiian housing programs and a Native Hawaiian loan guarantee.

“Families need good, safe homes in order to thrive and live healthy lives. There are far too many inadequate homes throughout Indian Country and we’ve got to address this problem,” Barrasso said in a press release. “By reauthorizing this bill, we’ll empower tribes to address the housing needs of the families who live in their communities. I look forward to working with other members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to move this bill forward as soon as possible.”

In the House, Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico) has introduced H.R.360 on January 14 but it has yet to receive a hearing. The bill also reauthorizes the Native Hawaiian programs.

The bills are not identical, however. The Senate version creates a new assistant secretary within the Department of Housing and Urban Development to oversee the Office of Native American Programs while the House package does not.

Currently, Indian housing programs fall under the assistant secretary for public and Indian housing. The post has not been filled by a Native American or Native Hawaiian person since the Bush administration.

Next week's hearing takes place March 18 in Room 628 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building. A witness list hasn't been posted online.

Committee Notice:
Legislative Hearing on S.___, The Reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 2015 (NAHASDA) (March 18, 2015)

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