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Housing council cuts staff, requests more money

WASHINGTON - The National American Indian Housing Council, having laid off half its staff due to federal budget cuts, wants Congress to increase housing money for the hundreds of tribes it represents.

Marty Shuravloff, Kodiak Island Housing Authority executive director and chair of NAIHC, told the group's annual legislative conference that the level $627 million Indian housing block grant proposed by the administration for fiscal 2008 leaves tribal housing ''falling behind'' due to inflation.

Instead, funding should be increased to $1.1 billion, including $77 million for the Indian Community Development Block Grant program, he said.

The group is also advocating a ''hold harmless'' provision that would ensure that tribes don't see a reduction in housing money as a result of the way the government counts Indians. In 2000, for the first time, the Census Bureau allowed people to declare themselves to be of more than one race, and the results favored tribes with more multi-racial members.

Shuravloff said NAIHC training money, partially cut last year and zeroed out for this year and next, caused the group to lay off staff and threatened its training program.

Paul Lumley, a member of the Yakama Nation and new executive director of NAIHC, had to make the decision to fire half of NAIHC's staff of 35 during his first days on the job. He said the group will continue to offer some training for now. Lumley later told Indian Country Today he will look for additional funds to offset these cuts.

Wendy Helgemo, the group's Office of Governmental Affairs director and a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, said NAIHC will continue to advocate for the reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act, which is set to expire this year. She said NAHASDA amendments proposed by the group have been ''well received on the Hill'' and that Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., a new subcommittee chair, wants to hold a field hearing on the matter as early as April.

Helgemo said NAIHC will continue to argue that the lost training money was specifically authorized by NAHASDA, rather than being in a group of ''earmarked'' funds stripped out by House and Senate continuing resolutions.

Helgemo said the group will also monitor the government-sponsored enterprises reform to make sure Indians are included in any trust funds organized to benefit low-to moderate-income borrowers. GSE includes mortgage agencies like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which act to make more mortgage money available.

Orlando Cabrera, Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as Public and Indian Housing assistant secretary, told the meeting that HUD's Section 184 completely guaranteed the Indian mortgage program's continued success. The HUD 184 is one of the few Indian programs in next year's budget to be earmarked for a raise. It has guaranteed nearly $500 million in mortgages over the past decade.

He also spoke of augmenting a second HUD Indian loan program, the Title VI, which has been underused despite its 95 percent guarantee of lender outlays. Cabrera said he didn't think that tribal housing bond authority (provided for in Title VI of NAHASDA) was a feasible idea, but offered instead a tribal collateralized loan program as a possibility.

He also said there must be a continuing effort to ''smooth out'' tribal status reports from the BIA. Slow clearance of the Title Status Reports has hampered Indian mortgage efforts to date.

Cabrera also spoke of an effort to get ''regulatory relief'' from the Treasury Department to allow more Indian Low-Income Housing Tax Credit deals.

In other fiscal 2008 budget proposals for Indian housing, HUD's Rural Housing and Economic Development program and the USDA's Section 502 direct loan would be zeroed out. Both programs have been used successfully in Indian country.

The Indian CDBG program would receive a reduction to $57 million, and the BIA's Housing Improvement Program would also be zeroed out. HIP is in the 2007 budget for $19 million. The Native American Veterans home loan program would also receive a cut of $1 million, and the Native Hawaiian housing block grant would be cut by $3 million.