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Housing lobby restores grant

WASHINGTON -- The American Indian housing lobby has won a significant
battle in the campaign to restore block grant money the U.S. government
wants cut for 2006.

The Senate recently voted to restore 2005 funding levels under the Native
American Housing and Self Determination Act, which would negate an initial
15 percent drop in the NAHASDA block grant and the Indian Community
Development Block Grant.

Now, differing versions of the appropriation must be reconciled in a
conference committee between the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The House version is much closer to the original administration proposal
that not only cut the NAHASDA block grant, but merged the I-CDBG into it
without providing a separate appropriation for it.

Both Chester Carl, chairman of the National American Indian Housing
Council, and NAIHC Executive Director Gary Gordon have endorsed the NAHASDA
Senate funding level of $622 million with an additional $69 million for the
I-CDBG.

That's $108 million more than the original proposal and $91 million more
than the House authorized.

NAIHC said the House passed the lower figure based on inaccurate numbers
from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers
NAHASDA. It also said the House calls for a change in the way money is
allocated to tribes that would be better addressed through negotiated
rulemaking.

The NAHASDA block grant has been whittled away in recent years from its
high of $650 million, a number much less than adequate to address a problem
that will cost some $20 billion to resolve.

As of press time, the conference committee had met and was said to be about
to release its report, which would then have to be affirmed by both the
House and Senate before going to President Bush for his signature into law.

According to the Bond Buyer newspaper, the overall CDBG program was rescued
from merger but at a reduced funding level, which would seem to favor the
Senate treatment of the I-CDBG.

In other housing funding news, tribes have been included as eligible to
apply for a new affordable housing fund. The House-passed fund would
earmark 3.5 percent of the earnings at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two
government-sponsored enterprises, at first to help victims of hurricanes
Katrina and Rita, but later to rise to 5 percent of earnings.

Tribes were added to the list of eligible parties at the behest of Reps.
Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., and Barney Frank, D-Mass. Others eligible include
state housing agencies and housing nonprofits.

Tribes already benefit from a similar Affordable Housing Program mandated
by the Federal Home Loan Bank System, a cousin entity to Fannie Mae and
Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while hugely profitable most
years, have seen financial reverses and restatements of income over the
past couple of years, due to accounting issues. Fannie Mae has temporarily
stopped issuing quarterly earnings reports, while Freddie Mac has just
resumed them.

Back in the Senate, lawmakers passed the 2005 version of the Native
American Housing Enhancement Act. NAHEA makes tribes eligible again to
apply for the YouthBuild program (NAHASDA previously barred them from it)
and bars HUD from reducing a tribe's housing block grant money because its
income from NAHASDA operations is less than the minimum.

NAIHC recently ran a homeownership seminar in Phoenix to help lift the low
rate of Indian homeowners. Speakers included Gordon; officials from HUD and
the Department of Agriculture, which has several housing programs used in
Indian country; and several representatives from nationwide lenders.

The Census Bureau recently estimated Indian homeownership at just short of
60 percent, placing Natives about 10 percentage points behind the country
as a whole.