More than $1 billion goes to Native American housing

By Joaqlin Estus, Alaska Beacon - March 15, 2024
Houses are seen in Gambell, Alaska, on Dec. 16, 2009. (Alaskan Command, Joint Task Force Alaska, Alaskan NORAD Region and 11th Air Force photo)
Houses are seen in Gambell, Alaska, on Dec. 16, 2009. (Alaskan Command, Joint Task Force Alaska, Alaskan NORAD Region and 11th Air Force photo)

Congress has passed and President Joe Biden signed off on an appropriation that puts more than $1.34 billion into Native American housing programs. The money is part of a six-bill fiscal year 2024 package.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii), who is chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, told ICT’s Aliyah Chavez, “To be clear, even though it’s a $300 million increase, it’s still not enough. It is an acute problem. It is a problem that frankly took generations to get this bad. We shouldn’t take a whole generation to fix it, but it’s also not going to get fixed in one year for tribal housing.”

Schatz said the funding will go out to tribes as block grants, so each recipient gets to decide how to use it, whether for single family houses, apartments or duplexes, or even as subsidies for people who want to apply for a mortgage.

“Consistent with self determination for Native Hawaiians, Alaskan Natives and American Indians, we don’t tell them exactly how to spend these resources. Because housing is different in every place and every nation, every community ought to be in control of what kind of housing product and what kind of housing assistance to provide,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Housing, said in a statement, “I am very proud of everything that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and I were able to secure in this appropriations package. One provision that is particularly important to me is the historic gains we were able to secure for traditionally-underfunded Indian housing programs. As a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, it will always be a priority of mine to ensure that the needs of Native and tribal communities are represented here in Washington, D.C., and I would like to thank Senator Schatz for working with me to secure this essential funding for Native housing programs.”

The chairman of the board for the National American Indian Housing Council testified last year in support of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, which was reauthorized in July 2023. Thomas Lozano, Maidu of the Enterprise Rancheria, spoke before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in March 2023.

He outlined Census Bureau data that shows that “American Indians and Alaska Natives were almost twice as likely to live in poverty as the rest of the population — 23 percent compared with 12.3 percent. The median income for an American Indian Alaska Native household is 30 percent less than the national average ($45,476 versus $65,712).”

Also Lozano said, “overcrowding, substandard housing, and homelessness are far more common in Native American communities. In January 2017, the Department of Housing and Urban Development published an updated housing needs assessment for tribal communities. According to the assessment, 5.6 percent of homes on Native American lands lacked complete plumbing and 6.6 percent lacked complete kitchens. These are nearly four times more than the national average, which saw rates of 1.3 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively.

“The assessment found that 12 percent of tribal homes lacked sufficient heating. The assessment also highlighted the issue of overcrowded homes in Indian Country, finding that 15.9 percent of tribal homes were overcrowded, compared to only 2.2 percent of homes nationally. The assessment concluded that to alleviate the substandard and overcrowded homes in Indian Country, 68,000 new units need to be built,” Lozano said.

Under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, the Native American Housing Block Grant Program and the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant Program provide financial assistance for Native families to get new homes, renovate, build community facilities, and receive housing services, including counseling, financial literacy and other critical resources to address housing disparities.

ICT’s Aliyah Chavez contributed to this report. 

ICT originally published this article. ICT is an an independent, nonprofit, multimedia news enterprise. ICT covers Indigenous peoples.

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