By Kevin Gale
With a major Native American housing conference coming in June, there’s plenty to discuss.
A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development study released earlier this year states that physical issues with housing have declined enough to be negligible in the United States, but not for American Indians and Alaska Natives—particularly those who live in tribal areas.
While 1 percent of U.S. homes have plumbing deficiencies, the share is 6 percent in tribal areas, according to American Housing Survey data cited by HUD. The share with heating deficiencies is 2 percent nationwide, but 12 percent in tribal areas.
The study also found 16 percent of homes in tribal areas are overcrowded vs. 2 percent for the U.S. in general.
“This study generally confirms what has become the conventional wisdom about homelessness in Indian Country; namely that, in tribal areas, homelessness mostly translates into overcrowding rather than having people sleeping on the street,” the study says. The housing survey, conducted in 2013–2015, found that 42,000 to 85,000 people in tribal areas were staying with friends or relatives because they had no home.
“I think the Native community is very small and close knit. Larger families know each other, growing up and living in the same area,” says Anthony Walters, the new executive director of the National American Indian Housing Council. “It’s a phenomenon where no one is going to drive down the street and not offer a hand or a bed for the night.”
The study estimates that 33,000 housing units are needed to eliminate overcrowding in tribal areas and 35,000 units are needed to replace those that are severely inadequate from a physical standpoint.
The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA), passed in 1996, was a step towards more self-determination, but there is a major issue.
While Congress has provided a fairly consistent level of funding for Indian Housing Block Grants, it has been eroded by inflation. The $637 million in housing developments funds for 2014, represented only $440 million in 1998 purchasing power, the study found.
Walters says NAHASDA reauthorization is his top priority. Congress has been funding it on a year-to-year basis since its expiration in 2013.
One question is how well funding will go with a new administration.
“It’s certainly tough. I don’t know that gains will be quick to come by or possible in the next year or two, but advocating on behalf of our members, sharing our success stories and showing what they have done with their funds… those stories are what drive the legislative process,” says Walters, who recently served as staff director and chief counsel to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
Walters says Indian Country also can look to other government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for funding. Some of the programs are not Native American specific, “But there is no reason we should not be accessing them,” he said.
The HUD study found some programs, such as direct loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for rural housing, have helped overcome tribal land trust issues when it comes to getting a mortgage, but lenders find the programs time consuming.
The NAIHC annual meeting will include lenders who will talk about how tribes can get access to mortgages and broader community development as well, Walters said.
The study found the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act of 2012 is a promising approach to assist tribes in assembling land for development. Under this program, tribes are authorized to execute agricultural and business leases on tribal trust lands for a primary term of 25 years and up to two renewal terms of 25 years each without approval by Department of the Interior.
One of the organizations helping tribes with financing is Indian Land Capital, which makes loans based on the full faith and credit of a Native American nation.
In 2011, for example Indian Land Capital gave a loan to the Yurok Housing Authority to acquire land in Culver City, California, to construct elder housing units and develop commercial space across from a Super Walmart. ♦
AMERIND, NAIHC partner on conference
The National American Indian Housing Council has a close partnership with AMERIND Risk to jointly hold their annual meeting and trade show from June 27-29 in Nashville.
AMERIND CEO Derek Valdo says NAIHC played a key role in the creation of AMERIND in 1986.
ìBasically commercial America looked at rural Indian Country and said it was too risky. The premiums they charge were pretty exorbitant,î Valdo says.
Every tribe receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development became a member of AMERIND when it came into existence, Valdo says.
AMERIND insures a little more than $11 billion of property nationwide, including 65,000 single-family homes and a little over 4,000 multi-family and commercial properties, Valdo says. That includes culturally significant homes such as chickee huts and earth mound homes.
AMERIND insures about 95 percent of the housing in Indian Country, Valdo says.
AMERIND started out giving $10,000 a year to support the NAIHC, but that increased to $200,000 in 2012.
In 2013, the two groups partnered on a joint conference, realizing about 60 percent of their attendees went to both conferences.
Last year, about 800 attendees attended the conference in Hawaii. Valdo is expecting a thousand this year. ♦