Housing publications target housing health hazards and funding opportunities

WASHINGTON - The Housing Assistance Council has published an article on the health hazards associated with American Indian housing and a separate guide to funding sources for rural homes.

HAC, a non-profit rural housing advocate, published "Danger Lurks at Home in Indian Country" in its most recent "Rural Voices" newsletter, and a revised version of its "A Guide to Federal Housing and Community Development Programs for Small Towns and Rural Areas." Both publications are available on its Web site, www.ruralhome.org.

The article on health hazards was written by Raven Miller, communications specialist at the National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC).

Mold has become a common health hazard in Indian homes, surpassing even the perils of lead contamination, according to Miller's article, which draws on a study NAIHC did last year on overcrowding in Indian housing.

"Throughout Indian country, claims have been made that toxic or black mold has caused property damage and illness," she wrote.

She said some lawyers are calling black mold "the asbestos of the new millennium." Their lawsuits are linking mold with "asthma, brain damage and respiratory problems."

Some tribes have tried remediation on their own, she noted, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana. The Turtle Mountain Band "sought federal funding for the mold damages found on homes and for emergency housing." And members of the Blackfeet tribe have said that HUD housing contains structural damage, such as bad foundations and leaky plumbing that aids mold growth.

Miller points out that HUD has allowed lead paint hazard funds to be used to fight the mold problem in Indian homes. "Nevertheless," she wrote, overall funding for the purpose of home safety must become a greater priority."

NAIHC, at its recent legislative conference, put out a position paper on black mold, calling for HUD money for the problem "that is separate from the NAHASDA Block Grant." Tribes have been using that housing block money on black mold, when it wasn't intended for that use, the group claims.

It estimated the cost of the problem at $20 million just at Turtle Mountain alone, where 320 homes are infested. More than 20 tribal areas currently are experiencing the problem, NAIHC said.

"Black mold is also suspected to be to blame for several deaths, particularly of children, in recent years."

Miller's article also goes into water, sewage and infrastructure problems in Indian country, as well as the overcrowding pointed out in the NAIHC report on that topic.

In its second recent publication, more than 80 federal funding programs are listed in HAC's revised funding guide, including the New Markets Tax Credit.

Several of the programs are targeted directly at Indian country, while most of the more general rural programs are useful since most reservations are rural. The guide takes a lot of time examining programs run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Agriculture Department's Rural Housing Service. The guide also contains other, less well known housing-related funds from sources such as the Departments of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Each program has a section describing its purpose, eligibility, terms, and contact information.

HUD programs directly related to Indians include the Public and Indian Housing Drug Elimination Program (not funded for the past two years), the NAHASDA Indian Housing Block Grants, the Indian Community Development Block Grant Program, the section 184 Loan Guarantees for Indian Housing, and the Title VI Federal Guarantees for Financing Tribal Housing Activities.

BIA programs specifically for Indian housing include Indian Housing Assistance and Indian Loans- Economic Development.

Other programs not specifically targeted to Indians but often used by them are described, such as HUD's Rural Housing and Economic Development program, and the section 502 and 504 loans of the Rural Housing Service.