Chickasaw governor lauds housing sovereignty

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The governor of the Chickasaw Nation says his tribe has seen "phenomenal"
results since it took control of its housing effort from the federal
government.

Bill Anoatubby told the National Indian Housing Summit, held in Reno by the
Department of Housing and Urban Development, that his nation took advantage
of the "self-determination" part of the Native American Housing Assistance
and Self Determination Act to start its own housing division in 1997.

Since then, operating as a "hybrid" of new and old authority, the
Chickasaws have placed some 500 tribal members into Mutual Help housing, he
said.

In addition, a private mortgage operation, Chuka Chukmasi, has arranged 350
mortgages, at a financing of $26 million, for tribal members all around the
country.

NAHASDA "opened many doors and opportunities for our people and tribal
government," Anoatubby said. Under the older, 1937 Housing Act program,
housing issues "were not decided by tribes themselves."

The name NAHASDA, with "self-determination" in its title, "says a lot for
the program itself."

The 1937 Housing Act program put a lot of Indian people into houses, but
the programs under it were "cookie cutter" and didn't allow for
individualized solutions.

One example of a local initiative the Chickasaws have developed for
themselves (and which makes a lot of sense for an Oklahoma tribe) is the
building of 700 storm shelters for its residents in that tornado-prone
state.

"We can turn our ideas into models and practices," he said. "Tribes all
around the country can apply them to their individual needs."

When it started its own housing division, the tribe took the best of the
old and new. For instance, it kept its old Indian Housing Authority because
"it has the power of eminent domain."

The IHA also had a series of useful cooperative agreements in place with
city and county.

"No need to reinvent the wheel," Anoatubby said.

Although the structure "was not an easy task," he said, "today it works."
And the tribe has seen "unbelievable growth in the last several years."

While low-income tribal members have been the focus of government programs,
the tribe started Chuka Chukmasi in order to serve those who are not
low-income. It has been a model program for other Oklahoma tribes to use.

Last year, the program added construction and rehab components in a way
that has merged federal and tribal programs to serve a larger group of
people.

Another added feature is a rental assistance program and an active
homeownership counseling program.

Homeownership is a goal for Chickasaw citizens to help them create wealth
through home equity. It will also add tribal jobs through construction.

Anoatubby detailed how the Chickasaw Nation has grown from 30 employees and
an annual budget of $1 million to 7,000 employees and a $350 million
budget.