Housing Crisis at San Carlos Apache Reservation

Author:
Updated:
Original:

TUBA CITY, Ariz. - When Congress came out to tribal lands to hear about
American Indian nations' housing problems, they got an earful from the San
Carlos Apache tribe.

Chairwoman Kathleen W. Kitcheyan told the House subcommittee on housing and
community opportunity that her tribal government receives six visits a day
from Apaches in desperate need of housing.

"Many Apaches do not have homes, do not have plumbing, and do not have
drinkable water," Kitcheyan told the first-ever housing hearing held on a
reservation.

"There are approximately 2,400 families on the reservation that are in need
of homes," she said in prepared remarks she read to the committee.
"Thirty-nine percent of families live in substandard housing and 40 percent
of families live in overcrowded conditions. We have calculated that it
would take building 125 homes a year for 10 years to meet the housing needs
of tribal members."

In addition, she said, the 1.8 million acre rural reservation in the
Arizona counties of Gila, Graham and Pinal suffers from a 76 percent
unemployment rate and a 77 percent poverty rate. There are 12,500 residents
on the reservation, and 84 percent of all tribal members live there, she
said.

"I wonder about some of the priorities of the United States when my
community needs to be rebuilt, my people need homes, and my people need
infrastructure, including sewage and water systems," she said in her
prepared remarks. "When I hear about the billions and billions of dollars
the United States is spending to rebuild Iraq, to build homes for the Iraqi
people, and to build infrastructure in Iraq, such as sewage and water
systems, I wonder why the United States will do these things for the Iraqi
people but not its own people in the United States."

Chairwoman Kitcheyan said that environmental review assessments required by
the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for Indian housing
block grants are a roadblock because of "the inordinate amount of time" it
takes HUD to grant approvals.

"The tribe submitted environmental reviews for two of its housing projects
over a year ago and there has been no action taken by HUD on these reviews.
We are two years behind in using our grant funding due to the delay," she
testified.

In addition, the tribe's infrastructure is woefully inadequate, she
informed the lawmakers. "Our sewage treatment systems are in such bad shape
that they are causing a health risk to nearby communities. The tribe does
not have the funding to fix our sewage treatment system and would be
appreciative of assistance from the federal government."

Kitcheyan also testified that water storage at San Carlos is a big problem,
as well. "First, the storage tanks are too small and do not meet the
tribe's demand for water by 24 percent. In order to provide and build more
homes, adequate storage and distribution systems need to be installed."
And, firefighting equipment is inadequate, resulting in homes burning to
the ground.

The chairwoman wrote in her remarks that the tribe's housing block grant is
inadequate for the need, and recommended a nationwide increase in the block
grant of 3 percent a year. Housing funding for fiscal year 2005 is set to
take a $7 million haircut unless Congress overrides the administration.

The chairwoman was part of a panel of top tribal officials from the first
Congressional district in Arizona, represented by Rep. Rick Renzi, the
driving force behind the hearing. Others included Joe Shirley Jr.,
president of the Navajo Nation, Wayne Taylor Jr., chairman of the Hopi
tribe, Chief Chadwick Smith of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and John
Endfield, vice chairman of the White Mountain Apache tribe. All except
Chief Smith are represented by Rep. Renzi, a freshman Republican, and many
told housing stories similar to the ones found at the San Carlos Apache.

Joining Rep. Renzi in holding the hearing were subcommittee chairman Bob
Ney, R-Ohio, ranking member Maxine Waters, D-Calif. and Jim Matheson,
D-Utah, who represents the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation.

The lawmakers toured several places on the Navajo Nation prior to the
hearing in Tuba City, including homes' without electricity, water or
plumbing. Rep. Waters said the tour was "awfully revealing," and she said
"I wish every Congressman could see what we saw today."

Waters advocated an increase in Indian housing money from the federal
government and an easing of the bureaucracy that often stifles Native
housing progress. "We cannot accept a process that denies Native Americans
homeownership," she said.

Rep. Renzi promised that he and Chairman Ney would visit the Bureau of
Indian Affairs in Washington, to inquire about an alleged backlog in
processing Native TSRs (title status requests). He also said he would seek
legislative relief for $54 million in Native housing guarantee money that
will revert to the Treasury if it is not used by the end of next year.