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Housing survey: poverty, trailers prevalent

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WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Some 25 percent of American Indian households are below the poverty level, and more than 10 percent of those households occupy mobile homes, according to the federal government.

According to the American Housing Survey, conducted bi-annually by the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, American Indians and Alaska Natives occupied 666,000 dwelling units in 1999, the latest year surveyed. The next survey, for 2001, should be released later this year.

Of those, the government found 166,000 households living below the poverty level, and 74,000 in mobile homes. Only blacks were found to have a higher poverty rate at 26 percent, and Indians took the candle as the ethnic category with the most mobile homes at 12 percent.

Twelve point three percent, or 82,000, of the units were found to have moderate or severe physical problems, and elders were found to live in 80,000 of them.

Less than half of Indians owned their own homes, the survey found, with 306,000, or 46 percent of them owner-occupied, and 360,000 were rentals.

Four hundred twenty four thousand of the housing units were urban, while 242,000 were found to be rural, suggesting more crowded units on rural reservations since the mix of reservation to urban Indians is estimated to be roughly equal.

Not surprisingly, the West was found to have the most Indian housing units, at 307,000, followed by the South at 160,000, the Midwest at 139,000, and the Northeast at 60,000.

More Native owners, 53,000, had mobile homes than renters, 20,000, but rental households were much more likely to be poverty-stricken at 31.6 percent, than owners at 17 percent. More owner-occupied units had elders living in them, 63,000, than rentals did 17,000.

Indian owners were more likely to be urban, by 164,000 units to 142,000 rural, but Indian rental units also were largely urban, by 260,000 to 100,000, again suggesting that rural reservation units are more crowded.

The government's figures must be considered approximations, because of high error margins.

It arrived at its results by doing 58,400 interviews and using that sample as a base to extrapolate national figures. But the extrapolations from those who underreport or don't respond to the survey must be estimated.

So when the survey reports a total of 666,000 Indian units, it could be off either way by more than 11 percent. The survey also cautioned that it tends to overestimate poverty numbers.