Housing bill plugs a few holes

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WASHINGTON - American Indian housing's first bill has gone through the
House of Representatives in the new Congress. And while the Native American
Housing Enhancement Act (NAHEA) is not a blockbuster bill, it does plug a
few holes housing leaders would rather see closed.

NAHEA, sponsored by Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., and Rep. Jim Matheson,
D-Utah, now goes to the Senate for action there. According to the National
American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC), NAHEA (H.R. 797) has support from
both sides of the aisle in the Senate as well as the relevant committee.

The legislation will allow Native youth to participate once again in
YouthBuild, the federal life skills and home construction plan. It will
also allow tribes continued access to federal housing block grants under
the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA)
even if they have not spent all money from previous-year grants.

Finally, the bill also allows "Indian preference" status in relevant U.S.
Department of Agriculture housing programs, allowing possible overlap with
Housing and Urban Development housing programs, where it is already
allowed.

The HUD 184 is the most successful Indian mortgage program; but Rural
Housing Service section 502 and 504 loans, for new and rehabilitated
housing, have been aggressively promoted in Indian country by the
Department of Agriculture.

NAHASDA, passed in 1996, disconnected Native participation in YouthBuild;
but Renzi argued that Native youth are more in need than most of the
program's life-affirming provisions, citing the recent school shootings on
the Red Lake reservation in Minnesota as evidence.

Renzi said the "Indian preference" status recognizes the sovereign status
of Indian nations. In many federal programs, preferring one set of people
over the rest is considered just as discriminatory as banning those people
from participating.

Finally, Indian housing leaders have argued that the difficulty of Indian
construction makes it more likely they cannot commit all their housing
money each year, despite demonstrable need. However, they have been warned
that the Office of Management and Budget now "scores" government grant
money for effectiveness. For fiscal 2006, the Bush administration has
recommended deep cuts in block grant money.

In other Native housing news, the Hawaiian counterpart to NAHASDA has
helped fund construction of 45 housing units on Native Hawaiian homelands
in Malu'ohai of the Villages of Kapolei.

Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant money was used on a 38-acre tract, as
was technical assistance from USDA's Rural Development agency and NAHASDA.
The participants contributed sweat equity and completed the project in 12
months, according to NAIHC.

In Arizona, the HUD 184 program recently saw a statewide territorial
expansion, becoming the third state (after Florida and Wisconsin) to see
HUD 184's scope grow beyond the reservations within the state.

The Pascua Yaqui tribe petitioned HUD to include the entire state of
Arizona in its HUD 184 eligibility area. A source at HUD confirmed that
this also applies to all other tribal members in the state.

The HUD 184, which guarantees 100 percent of any private lender's outlay,
was designed for the nation's reservations and the Indian areas of Oklahoma
and Alaska. These recent expansions are opening up urban areas like
Phoenix, Chicago and Miami to the program. Any tribe may petition for
territorial expansion - all it has to demonstrate is that it once had a
presence in the area or that significant numbers of tribal members live
there now.

The HUD 184 is the most successful Indian mortgage program, at $220 million
in finance for 2,200 loans.

Outgoing HUD Public and Indian Housing Assistant Secretary Michael Liu told
Indian Country Today that the states of California, Nevada and New Mexico
are poised for HUD 184 expansion as well.

Finally, NAIHC is about to hold its first stand-alone seminar on
homeownership and finance in Denver, May 10-12. It is part of a $100
million, 10-year project announced last year.

Topics will include planning, infrastructure, infrastructure, leveraging
block grant funds, and credit issues and consumer readiness for ownership.