National | Politics | Federal Recognition

Tribes awarded $715M in Housing and Urban Development grants

The Pamunkey Indian Museum and Cultural Center is located on the Pamunkey Reservation in Virginia. Photo from Facebook

Tribes across the nation, including the newest members of the federally recognized family, have been awarded more than $715 million in housing funds.

The largest chunk of $660.2 million came from the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) Program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Recipients included the Pamunkey Tribe of Virginia, whose federal status only became final late last month.

The tribe's grant of $50,282 was among the smallest of the 587 that were announced on Tuesday. But it marks a significant step in addressing housing conditions on the 1,200-acre reservation where a few dozen families currently live.

“We’re very pleased that the Pamunkey Tribe, whose federal recognition was long overdue, will receive grants to help expand affordable housing and create a safer community through crime prevention and safety programs," three members of the state's Congressional delegation said in a press release.

The offices of the Tejon Tribe in Bakersfield, California. Photo by Ronnie Nadal via Facebook

The IHBG amounts are based on a formula that considers local needs and existing housing units. Tribes with larger numbers and larger numbers of units, such as the Navajo Nation, whose grant totaled $86.4 million, and the Cherokee Nation, whose grant came to nearly $30 million, received more funds.

"Every family, every community in America, deserves the chance to flourish,” Secretary Julián Castro said in a press release. “Tribes use this funding to build new homes, or to solve their most pressing housing issues."

Another round of funding came from the Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG) Program. Awards totaling $55.5 million for 75 tribes were announced on Friday.

Recipients included the Tejon Tribe of California, whose federal status was reaffirmed in January 2012. The grant of $605,000 will be used to buy a public building and convert it into a community center, according to HUD.

Tribes could be in line for even more money under the fiscal year 2017 budget proposed by President Barack Obama. The request includes $700 million for the IHBG program, a $50 million increase above current levels, according to a justification document.

Another $80 million is being sought for the ICDBG program, with $20 million to be set aside for Native youth programs.

The Navajo Housing Authority and the Shiprock Office of Youth Development (ODY) Boys and Girls Club opened the $6.6 million youth complex in Shiprock, New Mexico, in March 2015. The Obama administration is proposing to set aside $20 million in Indian Community Development Block Grant funds for Native youth efforts. Photo by NHA

"With these additional resources, tribes will be able compete for funding for community projects that will help to improve outcomes for Native youth, such as construction or renovations of community centers, health clinics, transitional housing, pre-school/Head Start facilities and teacher housing," a budget document states. "The goal of this set-aside is to further support the administration’s Native American Youth Priorities, including: improving education and life outcomes, reducing teen suicide, addressing the shortage of teachers on reservations, and improving access to the Internet."

Despite the potential improvements, tribes are still facing obstacles on Capitol Hill. The Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act expired in September 2013 and Congress has failed to renew the law, which authorizes the IHBG program, the source of the larger pot of funds.

"While funding remains, it needs to be reauthorized. Otherwise it becomes known as discretionary spending," Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, told the National American Indian Housing Council at the organization's legislative conference in Washington, D.C., last week. "That means the Indian Block Grant will have to compete with all of the other expired programs to get funding."

Barrasso introduced S.710, a bill to reauthorize NAHASDA, last year and the committee approved it last April. But it has not come up for consideration on the Senate floor.

The House passed a different version, H.R.360, in March 2015. But that package includes provisions opposed by some tribes, including the Navajo Nation, whose leaders fear their grants could be reduced significantly due to language affecting funds that are carried over from prior fiscal years.

The threat is real because the fiscal year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill that became law in December included similar language. Aneva Yazzie, the CEO of the Navajo Housing Authority, said it forces tribes to spend their IHBG funds on terms dictated by Congress rather than the tribes themselves.

But Yazzie was happy to report the tribe's unspent IHBG balance of $257.3 million as of Tuesday. That's less than times the tribe's award of $86.4 million so the provision would not affect the reservation this year.

“In short, the 3X language will have no effect to Navajo and none of the Navajo Nation’s fiscal 2016 allocation of $86,438,873 should be withheld this year,” Yazzie said in a press release.

Tribes can access their balances via HUD's Line of Credit Control System.

Fiscal Year 2017 Department of Housing and Urban Development Budget Documents:
Native American Housing Block Grants | Indian Housing Loan Guarantee Fund (Section 184) | Community Development Fund | Congressional Justifications

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