Housing fund increase 'not enough'


WASHINGTON, D.C. - There's more money in the federal budget next year for American Indian housing - but not nearly enough, say representatives of the National American Indian Housing Council.

President Clinton, in his FY 2001 budget, is requesting $650 million to fund Native American Housing and Self Determination Act block grants - up $30 million from this year.

But Christopher Boesen, executive director of NAIHC, recently told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that at least $972 million is needed.

Boesen estimated the effect of welfare reform on Indian housing alone will come to $122 million, as tribal members losing benefits default back to tribal housing, and as benefits formerly counted as income vanish, so that rents paid on Indian housing decrease.

The executive director also asked for separate funding for new initiatives contained in the budget, but apparently intended to be funded from NAHASDA money.

These include a proposal for creating Homeownership Intermediaries and an increase in setasides for the Community Development Block Grant program, 1 percent of which is targeted to Indian communities.

Boesen said that in his opinion, the $5 million setaside for the Homeownership Initiatives is not enough to accomplish the job, even if it was funded separately.

The president's funding request is not automatic - it must be approved by Congress. The increase is part of a whopping $6 billion rise request for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds Indian housing.

NAHASDA, enacted in 1996, completely changed the way tribes received housing money from the government. Traditional HUD programs like Mutual Help were abolished in favor of a block grant made to a tribally-designated housing entity (TDHE), which could have been its Indian Housing Authority or another entity. Tribes were encouraged to seek to stretch that money by becoming partners with private lenders or non-profits.

In other government housing news, NAIHC has tallied use of HUD's Section 184 Indian mortgage guarantee program.

NAIHC, in its 'Native American Housing News,' quotes HUD as saying 615 loans have been funded, for $61 million, since program inception in 1994.

In addition, it has broken down use by trust land versus fee land: 420 on fee, for a total of $45 million, as against 185 on trust land, for a total of $15 million.

Alaska and Oklahoma, states with big Native populations but no reservations, are the two leaders in HUD 184s. Alaskan Natives have gotten 228 loans for a total of $33.2 million, while Indians in Oklahoma received 142 loans for a total financing of $9 million.