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Budget docks Indian housing

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WASHINGTON - Indian housing got off pretty easy in the fiscal 2003 appropriations process, all things considered.

The Indian Housing Block Grant program got docked just $4 million in the Omnibus Appropriations bill just passed by Congress, rather than the $20 million originally proposed in the Senate.

The $3.9 million trim from the originally proposed $646.6 million for funding under NAHASDA (Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act) was part of a general 0.65 percent reduction in just about all domestic spending that was passed Feb. 14 and sent to President Bush for his signature. The only exceptions were Head Start, veterans' medical care, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's space shuttle program.

The 2003 appropriations process dragged on a lot farther than it usually does, with the last Congress adjourning without passing the funding bills for the year, which started on Oct. 1, 2002. The bills were so late this year, they actually overlapped the 2004 process, which began with the release of President Bush's new budget. Indian housing money is included in the appropriations for the Veterans Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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For fiscal 2004, President Bush has proposed $648.6 million for NAHASDA block grants, keeping funding generally flat, as it has been for the past several years. The President again has requested that HUD's Rural Housing and Economic Development program, which has benefited many tribes, be killed.

"Continuing to fund tribal housing programs at the same level year after year is not protecting the tribes, it is shortchanging them," said Gary Gordon, executive director of the National American Indian Housing Council. "The Native population is growing, the cost of construction is increasing, and then there is the factor of inflation. Maintaining funding in this atmosphere actually results in a cut for the tribes."

Gordon added, "Programs like the Indian Housing Block Grant are vital to creating homeownership opportunities in Indian Country and thus improving the economies of tribal nations."

Under NAHASDA, tribes are given block grants for housing assistance under a predetermined formula. In an acknowledgement of sovereignty, they may determine how to spend the money themselves, although they have been directed by Congress to partner with the private sector in order to stretch the money to provide as much housing assistance as possible.

Production of Indian housing units has boomed since NAHASDA became law in 1996, as a result of this leveraging of money with the private sector. Tribes have partnered with banks and other financial institutions, non-profits, and private investors in order to attract outside capital into Indian housing, both rental units and housing built with homeownership in mind.