The Bureau of Indian Affairs isn’t the first federal agency most people think of when they consider Native housing. But BIA has operated for years a rehabilitation effort, the Housing Improvement Program (HIP), which has just been expanded to include higher allocation limits and the possibility of down payment assistance for Indians looking for mortgages.
The rule, which went into effect December 10, 2015, is part of the federal “Tiwahe” initiative to assist Indian families. The changes in the program “allow leveraging of housing funds to increase the number of families served and projects funded, and promote tribal sovereignty and self-determination by providing tribes with more flexibility in determining how to address waiting lists of tribal members awaiting housing assistance,” according to BIA.
Amounts available for repairs of homes have been increased to $7,500 from $2,500, while the limits for rehabs have been increased to $60,000 from $35,000. It also adds a new category of funding, for assistance to families that qualify for mortgages from other Federal programs (FHA, VA and HUD-184 are the main ones) or even from private lenders. And it increases the number of people eligible to receive allocations, from “extremely low income” to “very low income.”
The new rules also ease a requirement that applicants must own the land the building is on. Now they can provide proof of a homesite lease. And they increase eligibility limits on square feet for the housing unit, up to an additional 100 square feet for a two-bedroom house, 50 square feet for a three-bedroom house, and 95 square feet for a four-bedroom house.
The rule was out for comments before it was implemented, and BIA said commenters approved the various increases, though many had suggestions for improvements. One Native responder persuaded the BIA to change some language in the rule. “One commenter suggested adding to the policy statement that every American Indian and Alaska Native should have the opportunity for a “safe” home and suitable living “conditions” (rather than “environment”). The final rule incorporates these edits because the opportunity for “safe” homes, in addition to decent homes, is consistent with national housing policy.”
Many commenters requested an increase in total HIP funding. Funding for HIP in FY 2015 was about $8 million. The FY 2017 housing request for BIA is $9.7 million.
The agency noted that it consulted with tribes on the new rule as required by Presidential and agency directive. “We have held several listening sessions and consultation sessions with representatives of federally recognized tribes throughout the development of this rule.”
In a perhaps telling change that acknowledges how long it can take to get BIA approvals, applicants can now have applications pending for up to four years, instead of having to renew the app each year.
The Tiwahe Initiative, according to BIA, is intended “to address the interrelated problems of poverty, violence, and substance abuse in American Indian communities. Through this Initiative, social services and job training programs will be integrated and expanded to address child and family welfare, job training, and incarceration issues, with the goal of promoting family stability and strengthening tribal communities.”