Secretary Ben Carson of the Department of Housing and Urban Development addresses the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C., on February 13, 2018. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Housing Secretary Ben Carson heads to New Mexico for tribal visit

Ben Carson, the Trump administration's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is making his first trip to New Mexico next week and tribal issues are high on his agenda.

Carson will be visiting San Felipe Pueblo on Tuesday. He will take a tour of housing units on the reservation and meet with tribal leaders from across the state -- nearly two dozen have been invited, his office said on Friday.

"At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, our mission is to ensure that all Americans have access to safe, fair, and affordable housing," Carson said in his first appearance before the National Congress of American Indians earlier this year. "We serve men, women, and children from New York to North Dakota, and from Florida to Alaska."

"But we also have a special responsibility to those peoples who were here before all others, who govern themselves on their tribal lands, preserving their rich heritage and cultures," Carson added.

Ahead of the trip, Carson has already been highlighting tribal housing efforts in New Mexico. During a meeting at the White House on Friday, he said the Pueblo of Acoma Housing Authority "received a national honor for providing 30 affordable rental homes to local families and people with special needs."

The development, known as Cedar Hills, was dedicated in April. The designs for the units drew inspiration from the tribe's historic "Sky City" village west of Albuquerque.

“It was extremely important to PAHA that the project design incorporate the aesthetics of the Pueblo architecture and to create spaces that will enhance the sense of community and tighten the social fabric,” Floyd Tortalita, the executive director of the Pueblo of Acoma Housing Authority, said at the time.

According to Tortalita, the Indian Housing Block Grant Program at HUD makes developments like Cedar Hills possible. Between 2012 and 2016, the tribe completed 67 rehabilitation projects by leveraging its IHBG funds with other federal and state resources, he said.

Carson will be touring San Felipe, about a half-hour north of Albuquerque, with Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico). The Republican lawmaker has been trying -- unsuccessfully -- to renew the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, or NAHASDA.

The law, which authorized the IHBG program, helps tribes exercise greater control over their housing funds. It expired almost five years ago, back in 2013, and Congress has been unable to come up with a new version amid competing and sometimes conflicting priorities in Indian Country and opposition from some Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Carson, for his part, has endorsed NAHASDA. But Pearce won't be around to push his bill much longer -- he's running for governor of New Mexico against Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-New Mexico), who has already secured several tribal endorsements as part of her campaign.

Portions of Carson's tour of San Felipe housing will be open to the media and he also will be available to the press immediately afterward at the tribe's governmental building on Tuesday morning. The meeting with tribal leaders is closed.

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