The distinguished U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen, who has a Senate office building named after him, allegedly quipped: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
Well, with a perspective like that, I guess $5 million counts as unreal money, if it counts at all. Yet the House of Representatives in June chose not to restore a $5 million allocation to the National American Indian Housing Council, which, on said budget, could continue to provide real services for more than 250 Indian housing authorities representing about 1.4 million people living on reservations and other tribal lands in the contiguous 48 states and Alaska.
Indian country desperately needs these uniquely culturally relevant and affordable training, technical assistance, and other services in order to continue catching up with the nation at large in terms of living conditions and homeownership. The House Appropriations Committee passed a fiscal year 2007 federal budget bill recommending that NAIHC receive $990,000 (less than one-fifth of its current operating budget) to provide its services – or perhaps to shut down.
The Senate has a chance to right this wrong when it votes on appropriations on July 18. It would help so many people so much, without costing real money.
Capacity building helps tribes help themselves
Money invested in NAIHC creates value exponentially, as NAIHC helps the tribes manage and leverage their money toward becoming fully self-reliant. NAIHC thus supports tribal self-determination in creating and maintaining housing, in accordance with the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996, which drives Indian housing policy today.
For a people still facing large hindrances due to their historical displacement onto non-arable lands, living in communities rampant with substandard housing and few economic prospects, NAIHC’s technical assistance and training helps tribal housing professionals build their capacity to build – not just decent housing, but vibrant communities and self-sustaining families. For a people not historically oriented to homeownership, NAIHC’s mortgage financing and home buyer counselor training can make the difference between achieving the American Dream and getting baited by predatory lenders.
For housing professionals working for small, poor tribes in remote areas, NAIHC’s scholarships (which cover travel costs) and web-based training can be what enables them to get trained at all – and already in FY 2006 the scholarship program, which prioritizes the poorest tribes, has been forced to cut back. And then there’s the methamphetamine scourge, which doesn’t discriminate against Native communities and would flourish unabated were it not for NAIHC’s anti-meth seminars.
A Marshall plan
All of these services (and more) help with the implementation of NAHASDA, which is hailed by tribes and members of Congress as a model program developing housing, homeownership and economic dynamism in tribal communities. Like a Marshall Plan for Indian country. tribal leaders lobbied for help, and Congress and the president wanted to do something to honor the federal government’s historical trust responsibility to the Native tribes and help the people become fully self-sufficient. NAIHC, with input from tribes, helped law- and policy-makers create the landmark legislation. NAHASDA isn’t perfect, but it’s a work in progress, opening doors that weren’t there for Native people.
How disappointing it would be if the First Americans, at last full of hope for the kinds of housing opportunities that are standard for all Americans, should find the doors have closed.
Marty Shuravloff is chairman of the National American Indian Housing Council, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit founded in 1974.