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Housing council commits to bipartisanship under Democrats

WASHINGTON – National Native organizations in Washington continued to council political bipartisanship following the Democratic takeover of majority control on Capitol Hill in the Nov. 7 elections. Seconding recent statements of bipartisanship from the National Congress of American Indians, the National American Indian Housing Council said in a media teleconference Nov. 29 that Capitol Hill under Republicans, and the Department
of Housing and Urban Development under President Bush, have been well-disposed toward Indian housing issues.

“We have friends on both sides of the aisle,” said Dennis Daniels, acting executive director and research coordinator for NAIHC. “And we’re not going to turn our backs on the people who have helped us” simply because they’re no longer in the majority, he added, singling out Arizona Republican Rep. Rick Renzi for mention. NAIHC wants to maintain past support and cultivate new relationships in both parties during the 110th Congress that begins in January, Daniels said. “And I don’t think we can emphasize that strongly enough.”

Governmental Affairs Director Wendy Helgemo said incoming Democratic committee chairmen are generally supportive of the council. She singled out Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman-to-be of the Financial Services Committee.

NAIHC, with a voting membership of 265 organizations, represents 466 tribes nationwide. Citing the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and a Rutgers University study, the council claims an immediate need for 200,000 housing units in Indian country and notes in its current fact sheet that 14 percent of reservation homes lack access to electricity, 11.7 percent lack complete plumbing, 20 percent of housing units in Indian country lack telephones, 66 percent of reservation roads are unpaved and almost 15 percent of homes are overcrowded.

Technical assistance and training to overcome these numbers is an NAIHC priority, and Helgemo urged support for a Senate appropriations bill that would enable the council to continue providing assistance to tribal housing authorities at the same levels as in the past, as against a House version that would significantly underfund them. Helgemo said Congress should work through the separate appropriations bills that are before it.

An omnibus bill that would consolidate national appropriations measures into one huge funding package is unwelcome, she said, echoing the sentiment among Indian affairs monitors on Capitol Hill generally that separate appropriations bills are easier to watch because “surprise” amendments have a way of slipping into omnibus bills, which are invariably portrayed as “must-pass” legislation if the government is going to continue functioning. Also on the table is the prospect of a “continuing resolution on the budget” to fund the government into January; as Congress prepares to convene Dec. 5 for a post-election “lame-duck” session, Helgemo said the probable budgetary
scenario changes by the day.

The impact of census data sets on the allocation funding formula for Indian Housing Block Grants also came up on the teleconference. The censuses of 1990 and of 2000 differ in that the first permitted only single-race identification as American Indian or Alaska Native. The second included a multiple-race category, as in “AIAN alone and in combination with other racial groups.”

For exhaustively complex reasons, the difference has a bearing on the HUD formula for arriving at Indian Housing Block Grant amounts. HUD opted for the multiple-race data set as part of its formula for calculating IHBGs, arguing for it as “the most inclusive definition of AIAN persons” under which “no such persons are excluded” from IHBG eligibility. In addition, HUD has stated in testimony before Congress, “The increase in the number of people who identify as AIAN [in data sets drawn from the 2000 Census] – regardless of whether they are AIAN alone or AIAN in combination with other racial groups – is used for very limited purposes in the IHBG formula.” HUD runs its calculations for each tribal housing authority according to both the 1990 and 2000 data sets, and awards the grant that turns out higher.

Nonetheless, some tribes get more and some get less under single- or mixed-race formulas, leading to serious disagreement as HUD funding has dwindled against inflation. In remarks previous to the Nov. 29 teleconference, Shuravloff maintained the issue has been divisive for Indian country since 2003, when HUD began using the 2000 data set.

An NAIHC Task Force on Formula Allocation is examining repercussions of the different data sets and will offer its conclusions to the council membership Dec. 7 in Las Vegas, Daniels said. Most task force members favor a recommendation to relocate the data sets issue from the census to the tribes, Daniels said. “There would be much to be worked out before that would be viable.” Daniels emphasized that NAIHC members have not adopted the recommendation, which can’t even come before them prior to Dec. 7.

The controversy around Chester Carl also came up during the teleconference. A past president of NAIHC and, until recently, the CEO of the Navajo Housing Authority, Carl had come to the forefront of the Indian housing movement following passage of the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act in 1996. But on Oct. 24, HUD suspended him for allegedly accepting gifts, including gaming chips, from a contractor, according to a HUD information officer. The Navajo Times reported that the information officer indicated the U.S. Office of the Inspector General will conduct a “full investigation” of Carl.

Shuravloff said NAIHC is aware of the investigation. “All we can hope is that this will not detract from the needs of Indian country.”