Congressional panel coming to the Navajo
WASHINGTON - The first U.S. Congressional housing hearing ever to take place on an American Indian reservation will be held next month in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo Nation.
Rep. Rick Renzi, Republican of Arizona, told the annual legislative meeting of the National American Indian Housing Council here that he hoped new legislation will come out of the Housing and Community Opportunities subcommittee of the Financial Services Committee's meeting to help alleviate the housing crisis in Indian country.
Rep. Renzi, who represents eight tribes, including the Navajo and Hopi, in his rural Arizona district, said he wants to eliminate a severe Native homeownership gap. NAIHC at its meeting estimated that the homeownership rate in Indian country is less than half of the 68 percent for the country as a whole. (The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated total Native homeownership, both on and off reservation, at more than 50 percent.)
"It is incumbent on me to do more," said Rep. Renzi, who pledged his "fighting spirit" to the service of American Indian housing.
He pointed to the example of the White Mountain Apache, whose Fort Apache reservation is also within his district. The Apache Dawn project there is building 300 homes, with financing from Bank One, the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and a unique $25 million mortgage revenue bond.
"We've got a great model" in Apache Dawn, the Congressman said.
The legislator said he would bring "focus and national attention" to increased funding for homebuyer education and success stories like the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act block grants, the Affordable Housing Program of the Federal Home Loan Banks, and the Rural Housing and Economic Development program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
RHED has been zeroed out, for the third straight time, by the Bush Administration in its fiscal year 2005 budget request. Congress has voted it back in twice.
Rep. Renzi, a first-term Congressman, lives in Flagstaff, Ariz., where he is a businessman and the father of 12 children. He also serves on the Resources and Veterans Affairs Committees.
HUD beats Native goal
WASHINGTON - The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Native American Programs last year beat its goal of assisting low-income Native American families by almost a third, its director said.
The Office of Native American Programs, based in Denver and Washington, D.C., assisted 68,000 Native low-income families last year, far above its goal of 52,000, HUD deputy assistant secretary Rodger Boyd told the recent legislative conference of the National American Indian Housing Council.
And for the first time last year, HUD's Office of Native American Programs put in a computer program that will allow it to quantify success stories for Congress and the Administration, he said.
Last year, Native American housing did not fare too well on a scoring system implemented by the federal Office of Management and Budget to see how effectively federal money is being spent or obligated, Boyd told the meeting.
But now, an Access data system is able to reveal that 88 percent of Indian housing assistance has been obligated, and 70 percent actually spent, he said.
Boyd took a glass-half-full approach to last year's negotiated rulemaking with tribes over the funding formula for Indian housing block grants under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act, noting that in seven "arduous and challenging" sessions, Native housing leaders and HUD officials reached consensus on 12 of 20 proposals.
Boyd said a notice of proposed rulemaking on the results should be published in the Federal Register by the end of March.
Boyd called creating homeownership "one of the top priorities in the Administration," and noted that increased tribal use of federal mortgage programs like the HUD 184 guaranteed American Indian home loan will free up rental housing for other low-income families.
He said that when he was economic development director of the Navajo Nation, "housing played a very important role in economic development on the reservation."
He noted that the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago has just purchased its first HUD 184 loans (providing liquidity for others to be made), and that its sister shop, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle, has purchased 16 HUD 184s totaling $1.6 million.
A problem, though, faces the program. Although 1,400 HUD 184s have been guaranteed to date, making it by far the largest Indian mortgage program, there is $811 million in unused loan guarantee authority. "We don't want to lose that authority," he said, urging tribes to leverage the 184 program and their NAHASDA block grants.
"Some are doing this very well," he said, citing the San Juan Pueblo in New Mexico, which has leveraged money from the Enterprise Foundation, the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority and the HOME program to build housing.
Boyd said that HUD's Office of Native American Programs this year is changing emphasis from holding nationwide tribal housing summits to regional ones. Six are set for this year, in Tampa, Fla.; Estes Park, Colo.; the Coeur d'Alene reservation in Idaho; Reno, Nev.; and Anchorage, Alaska.
He is expecting local solutions for rental and homeownership opportunities to emerge from these regional summits.
Indian housing risk pool scores victory
WASHINGTON - Amerind Risk Management Corp.'s risk pool has been recognized by mortgage agency Fannie Mae as an adequate alternative to homeowners insurance on the loans it buys, Chief Executive Kent Paul told a meeting of American Indian housing leaders.
Fannie Mae, the largest investor in mortgages in the country, last year had balked at the Native-run housing risk pool, saying it was not insurance and could not be accepted, prompting a problem with potential American Indian mortgages.
Sources at the National American Indian Housing Council legislative conference credited Pattye Greene, former director of the Choctaw Housing Authority and now an employee of Fannie Mae, with helping get the problem resolved.
Calling insurance "the oil that drives the community," Paul urged tribes to use their sovereignty "and create our own industry." He said he knew of very few tribal insurance ventures.
There are "14 or 15" housing pools serving urban America, he said, but just one, Amerind, in Indian country.
Amerind, based in Albuquerque, N.M., was chartered in 1986, at a time when homeowners insurance was "unavailable or unaffordable" in Native communities. Amerind was limited, though, by the fact that there are no reservations in Alaska or Oklahoma, limiting its ability "to reach out and protect these people," said Paul.
It is composed of 250 members, comprising 450 tribes, and it currently insures $6.5 billion in Indian housing.
Paul said Amerind, a Native corporation, wants to change its status to a federal "section 17" corporation to increase its capacity to do more. Although this has been "a slow, painful process," he said the charter change is now on the desk of new Bureau of Indian Affairs head Dave Anderson for approval.
Paul is worried about a vast number of Indian homes that are not protected, such as 100,000 government homes that have been conveyed to individual Indian owners. Some 90,000 of these are unprotected, he told the NAIHC meeting.
Just 12 of 132 Native homes destroyed by last October's California wildfires had insurance protection, he said. Two of the rancherias, San Pascual and Barona, had turned down an opportunity for coverage just weeks before the blaze, he said.
"It rips my guts to see families that have to double up and triple up with other families," Paul said. Amerind has made a $100,000 donation for relief of those Indians burned out of their homes, and its members have donated an additional $12,000 to date.
"We need to improve insurance capacity in your communities," he said. "We need your help. Encourage the federal government to encourage the private insurance industry to come into your communities."
Underused home loan program can boast low foreclosures
WASHINGTON - The federal government's underused direct home loan program to American Indian veterans living in tribal areas can still boast of a remarkably low rate of foreclosures.
Erica Lewis, coordinator of the Department of Veterans Affairs program, told the recent legislative meeting of the National American Indian Housing Council that in the program's 11 years of existence, just one mortgage has been foreclosed on.
The program has closed less than 400 loans in that time. It is open to Native veterans who are members of a federally recognized tribe and live on trust land, either tribal or allotted. It can be used for the purchase of an existing home, a refinancing, construction or for home improvement.
Native vets not living on trust land are eligible for the DVA's regular loan guarantee for vets, a program that generated 500,000 mortgages nationwide in fiscal year 2003.
Lewis said that though the loan limit on the program is currently $80,000, it can be raised at the request of a tribe, and that DVA has never turned down a request to raise the limit. Loans have ranged from $5,000 to $230,000 and 68 tribes have participated in the program.
Average loan size in the continental United States ranges from $70,000 to $90,000, she said, and it is higher in the Pacific Islands. Interest rate on the loan currently is 5.5 percent. An appraisal must be done, but closing costs can be rolled into the loan amount, she said.
On a foreclosure, land will never lose trust status, she said, since the mortgage is on the leasehold, not on the land itself.
Tribes receive right of first refusal on a foreclosure, she said, and they can arrange for the mortgage to be taken on by another family member, another tribal member, or another American Indian.
DVA recently gave tribes top priority for a second underused Native program, one that assists homeless veterans. It made a set-aside of 150 transitional beds, 10 percent of a total of 1,500, that tribes would get first crack at.
NAIHC said that tribal programs have received just $979,000 in assistance since this program began in 1994.
The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, in late 2002 concluded the DVA Native direct mortgage was underused and recommended the department seek ways to increase participation.
It noted that of 227 mortgages made at that point, just 38 had gone to veterans on the continental United States, with the balance going to Native Hawaiians or Native vets in the Pacific Islands of Guam and American Samoa.
ICDBG program Awards $9 million for development
WASHINGTON - Six big American Indian economic development or housing projects in Arizona have been funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, for a total of more than $9.1 million.
The awards come from the Indian set aside of the Community Development Block Grant program (ICDBG). Since the ICDBG has been funded at about $72 million for the past several years, this means Arizona tribes have taken down about 12.5 percent of the current-year amount.
Projects funded, according to a Jan. 27 announcement from the HUD Southwest Office of Native American Programs, are
*The Navajo Nation, Window Rock - $4.3 million for public facilities infrastructure.
*The San Carlos Apache Tribe, San Carlos - $375,000 for housing rehabilitation.
*The Yavapai-Apache Nation of Camp Verde - $605,000 for a special needs facility.
*The White Mountain Apache Tribe, Whiteriver - $2.75 million for a special needs facility.
*The Ak-Chin Indian reservation, Maricopa - $605,000 for a community center.
*The Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, Pipe Spring - $453,042 for a community center.
HUD remarked of all the projects "these funds will be used to develop viable Indian communities through decent housing, a suitable living environment, and the creation of economic development opportunities principally for persons of low and moderate income."
The Indian set aside has been 1.5 percent of the national total for the CDBG program for the last several years.
President Bush's fiscal year 2005 proposal calls for $71.575 million for the ICDBG. $72 million was approved for fiscal year 2004.
The National American Indian Housing Council has called for a doubling of the ICDBG program, to $150 million.
NAIHC Chair Russell Sossamon, testifying before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee recently, noted a threat to the program from federal Office of Management and Budget scrutiny of its effectiveness.
"We understand the CDBG program also recently went through OMB's performance assessment and was unable to adequately demonstrate measurable success," he said.
"We support any efforts of HUD and OMB to document the use of CDBG and/or improve its performance. We see every day how tribes have used this program to build their communities and would welcome the chance to have that success accounted for."