HUD Secretary-Designate Ben Carson Endorses Indian Housing Sovereignty

The likely next secretary of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, has endorsed the reauthorization of the NAHASDA.

The presumptive next secretary of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, has endorsed the reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, the sovereignty-friendly Indian housing law that has been stuck in the congressional logjam for years.

In response to a question by Sen. Mike Rounds, R-SD, at his confirmation hearing January 12, Carson said “The Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act has been waiting to be re-upped after six years. I’m looking forward to the Senate reauthorizing that act in the very near future.”

NAHASDA, passed in 1996 and re-authorized every few years, has been in limbo during the congressional stalemate between House and Senate Republicans and President Obama. It is a landmark bill that endorses tribal housing sovereignty (“self determination” is written into the name of the Act) and has largely transferred control of Indian housing assistance from HUD to tribes and their designated housing entities.

NAHASDA is the vehicle that determines how approximately $650 million in yearly housing money is distributed to tribes, through a formula that some tribes, mainly smaller ones, say discriminates against them.

At the hearing Sen. Rounds said, “There is a strong concern on the part of Native Americans in rural areas that the current formula in which funds are being distributed by HUD was not following that which had been recommended by some senior staff, and in fact was following an old guideline.

“Would you please consider that we find a fairer way to give these folks the resources they need so they get a chance at housing as well?”

“Thank you for advocating for them,” replied Carson. “This is a situation that has weighed heavily on my mind as I’ve learned more and more about it.”

Carson also advocated that tribes be involved in cutting bureaucratic delay from the housing process.

“The amount of red tape on the reservations right now is astonishing,” he said. “On tribal lands, if you want to build a house, you have to get permission from HUD, permission from the [Department of the] Interior, and if you want to put a driveway on it you have to get permission from the Department of Transportation. We need to bring back a little bit of common sense and have the people associated with those tribes involved in that decision making.”

Rounds also asked Ben Carson to try to rectify the low number of reservation veterans getting mortgages through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He said the Minneapolis district approved just five such mortgages last year, and asked for more coordination between agencies like HUD and DVA, saying “the system is broken.”

Ben Carson agreed that the system is broken but offered no specific remedy.

At the hearing, Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, and Jon Tester, D-WY, also brought up Indian housing.

Sen. Heitkamp said, “When I discussed the housing landscape in North Dakota with Dr. Carson last week, I emphasized the strong need for a holistic approach to solving the economic and social challenges facing low-income families, particularly in Indian country.”

And Sen. Tester, who has sponsored the reauthorization of NAHASDA, challenged Carson to support the housing block grants administered through NAHASDA.

In addition to the NAHASDA funds, HUD also administers an Indian set aside from the Community Development Block Grant program, which was funded for $60 million in fiscal 2016. And it has two housing-related loan programs, the HUD 184 and the NAHASDA Title VI loan programs. The HUD 184 has guaranteed more than $5 billion in mortgages to tribes, their housing entities and individual Indians, while Title VI has provided several hundred million dollars of loans for infrastructure and construction.