As the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act continues to languish without reauthorization, Congress got a report card on federal Indian housing programs. It also heard from Indian housing advocates that the buying power of appropriated money has declined, and that fewer houses are being built in Indian country.
At a field hearing of the House Housing and Insurance subcommittee at the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe School in Heyward, Wisconsin, members of Congress heard why the stalled bill HR 360, which re-authorizes NAHASDA and passed the House in 2015, should be a priority of lawmakers. But it also heard a detailed scorecard on dollars spent by the Department of Housing and Urban Developments four major Indian housing programs.
In written testimony submitted to the panel, Heidi Frechette, deputy assistant secretary for HUD’s Office of Native American Programs, detailed dollars appropriated for the HUD 184 and Title VI loan programs, the Indian Community Development Block Grant Program and the Indian Housing Block Grant program.
As of June 30 of this year, Frechette wrote, the HUD 184 program has guaranteed 38,585 mortgages to Indians (both on and off reservation) for a total of $6.4 billion since inception. This loan can be made to individual Indians, tribes, or tribal housing entities.
The lesser-used Title VI (authorized by Title VI of NAHASDA) has guaranteed 98 loans for $239 million since inception. Title VI loans generally are “project” loans for things like infrastructure or roads. These projects have yielded 3,244 affordable housing units, according to Frechette.
The I-CDBG was used in fiscal 2016 to build 13 community buildings and rehab 325 affordable housing units. In the past five years those totals are 159 community buildings, nearly 3,800 affordable housing units, and 922 jobs created.
With the IHBG, “in fiscal year 2016, tribes built or acquired 563 affordable housing units using IHBG funds, and about 5,400 units were substantially rehabilitated. In addition, tribes operated, maintained, and renovated about 43,000 units of housing developed under the U.S. Housing Act of 1937.
“Since the program’s first year of funding in 1998, through fiscal year 2016, recipients built or acquired more than 38,000 units of affordable housing, and rehabilitated about 85,000 units,” she said. IHBG appropriations have been in the $600-$650 million range over the past 20 years since they were created by NAHASDA, which passed in 1996 and was most recently reauthorized in 2008, expiring in 2013.
Block grant money has been used for other purposes as well, she said. “Since 2013, tribes have used IHBG funds to purchase almost 1,300 acres of land to develop affordable housing, and have provided down payment or closing cost assistance to more than 3,200 families.”
The executive director of the National American Indian Housing Council also addressed the subcommittee hearing. Tony Walters, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, told the panel that the buying power of IHBG funds has deteriorated over the past 20 years, with the result that fewer houses are being built.
The Administration’s fiscal 2018 request cut the IHBG funding to $600 million and zeroed out other programs. While the budget process may restore some of the cut funding, Walters said that over time the buying power of the money has decreased by a third.
Walters agreed with Frechette on the overall number of units built with NAHASDA money, but said “While averaging over 2,400 new unit construction between FY2007 and 2010, new unit construction has dropped in recent years with only 2,000 new units between 2011 and 2014, and HUD estimating less than 1,000 new units in future years as tribes maintain existing housing stock.”
He said a funding level of $900 million a year is necessary to maintain the buying power of 20 years ago, and asked that funding be no lower than $700 million per year.