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Cheyenne River needs new housing

WASHINGTON - A national American Indian housing leader has told Congress that his home reservation in South Dakota has an immediate need for nearly 1,750 new homes, and that the federal government should pick up the pace on producing affordable new homes for natives and other rural residents.

Bill Picotte, executive director of non-profit housing developer Oti Kaga on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation, told the Senate subcommitee on housing and transportation that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, according to its housing authority, needs 1,104 new rental units, 309 new homeownership units, and hundreds more for student, transitional, homeless, elderly and personnel housing.

Picotte broke out the CRST needs as part of his testimony before the panel on the topic of affordable housing production in his capacity as president of the Housing Assistance Council, a Washington, DC-based, national non-profit that focuses on rural areas.

Picotte cited a poverty rate of 41 percent on the reservation, as well as a median family income of $15,797 and an individual median income of $6,405 as indicators of the extreme housing need on the reservation. Residents of the reservation have only a 51.6 percent homeownership rate, he said, compared to a national rate of 67 percent and a statewide rate of 66.1 percent.

"To help alleviate some of these conditions, Oti Kaga has undertaken development of both single-family and multi-family housing; loan-packaging services for Rural Development programs; a loan program; and housing counseling services," Picotte told the senators. "Essentially we are engaged in affordable housing production, the focus of today's hearing."

Picotte said the group, started in 1995, has used federal programs like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing Service loan programs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 184, Rural Housing and Economic Development, and HOME programs, and the Affordable Housing Program of the Federal Home Loan Banks, among others, to foster home production on the CRST.

Oti Kaga also has started two loan programs on the res. They are basically second mortgages on RHS loans, to provide closing costs and down payment assistance to RHS borrowers.

"Oti Kaga also provides loan-packaging services for the (RHS) Section 502 and 504 programs through our 'Increasing Access to Rural Development Programs' project, which is funded by USDA and the Housing Assistance Council. And we offer credit counseling and homebuyer education," he testified.

Picotte also detailed for the senators several projects Oti Kaga has successfully developed, which total 65 units of housing. They include:

*Tipi Tokaheya, a four-unit renovation project;

*Elk View Homes, a ten-unit, detached, lease-purchase project;

*South Main Apartments, 20 units of rental housing;

*Falcon Apartments, 16 units of rental housing; and

*Blackhawk Apartments, 15 units of rental housing.

Picotte also noted dramatic declines in several USDA production programs, including the RHS Section 515 program for rural rental housing and the Section 502 direct lending program for rural homeownership. A third program, the Section 502 guarantee for rural homeownership, has declined in the past couple of years after rising through most of the 1990s.

"We need production," Picotte said of Cheyenne River. "Rural America needs production. Additional units of decent, affordable housing are very much needed, and federal funding is essential to make new production happen."