Bush budget projects housing program cuts

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WASHINGTON - As details of President Bush's proposed budget for FY2001 continue to emerge, Indian housing programs have come under the knife in the administration's attempts to balance the budget and fund the new tax cut.

Most American Indian housing programs would receive no increases, while others would be cut and some eliminated.

The Indian Housing Block Grant, the Loan Guarantee Program, the Housing Counseling Program and the Tribal Colleges and Universities Initiative would remain at FY2001 levels, while the Indian Community Block Grant would be cut by $2 million and the Empowerment Zones Round II program would be cut by $50 million.

The most significant cuts would be a total phase-out of the Drug Elimination program and the Rural Housing and Economic Development program, funded in FY2001 at $309 million and $24 million, respectively.

"These programs have done well in the past to fill in the gaps of other HUD programs, as well as to provide more diversity of funds that can fit the particular needs of each tribe," said Chester Carl, chairman of the National American Indian Housing Council. "Indian country needs more options, not less."

The National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) looks at the Drug Elimination program as a major success. An 11-month study conducted by the council in 1999 and 2000 shows the Drug Elimination program created an opportunity and funding source for tribes to "develop innovative, unique and culturally relevant solutions for drug related crime reduction in Native communities."

Under the president's proposal, the funds from the Drug Elimination program would be redistributed to the Public Housing Operating Fund to allow housing authorities to use these funds for anti-drug activities or other priorities.

However, tribes and tribal housing authorities do not receive any of the Operating Subsidies, thus ending funding for all tribal drug elimination programs at HUD.

The Rural Housing and Economic Development program has been an important way for capacity building and housing and economic development activities on tribal lands. This program allows tribes to improve software, accounting systems, and loan funds, as well as support for development and sustainability efforts such as strategic planning, acquisition of land markets and job training. The president's proposed budget would eliminate funding.

Although legislation recently was passed to improve American Indian housing laws, Native Americans are still plagued with the worst housing conditions in the country. Nearly 70 percent of Native Americans living in tribal areas live in severely overcrowded housing and home ownership among Native Americans on tribal lands is 30 percent, compared to 66 percent nationally.

The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, signed into law in 1996 and administered through HUD has put 25,000 units into Indian country. The intent was to assist Native Americans, now including Native Hawaiians, in tribal areas with affordable housing - home ownership, rehabilitation and other housing assistance. Although the law has been praised as a success, many tribes are hoping for more funds to build homes, along with increased technical support.