Updated:
Original:

Landmark housing bill heads for reauthorization

WASHINGTON, DC ? Five years ago, the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) squeaked through Congress at the eleventh hour, literally.

American Indian housing activists who remember how the NAHASDA bill passed late at night on the last day of the 1996 Congressional session are hoping that the reauthorization of the bill this year will be smoother sailing.

So far, their hopes seem to be well founded. The mid-February hearing date on the bill before the Senate Indian Affairs committee marks an early start for the legislation As parallel bills work through Rep. Marge Roukema's House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, it looks like the measure is on a relatively fast track.

Indian housing leaders, in town for the annual legislative conference of their lobbying group, the Coalition for Indian Housing and Development, were set to pack the galleries for the Feb. 13 hearing on the bill, that has had historic consequences for Indian housing.

Housing trade groups, such as the CIHD's affiliate the National American Indian Housing Council, and regional housing associations have had plenty of quibbles over the enactment of NAHASDA, consultation, or lack of it, being the biggest sticking point. Many, however, would agree that NAHASDA is on its way to do what it was intended to do ? revolutionize the usage of government housing assistance to tribes and their designated housing entities.

Kristy L. McCarthy, executive director of CIHD and chief lobbyist for NAIHC, recently told Indian Country Today she has no reason to believe NAHASDA reauthorization will not pass this year.

The two pending bills (HR 1873 and S1210) were introduced last year. McCarthy believes the reauthorization will also be added to an omnibus housing bill sponsored by Rep. Roukema, R-N.J., and to an omnibus bill being prepared by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, giving it four chances to be approved by the 107th Congress.

"This is one they want to get done," she said of the Indian Affairs Committee. "We're back on the radar screen."

Tribes are hoping to get language inserted into the bill that would require negotiated rulemaking (in consultation with tribes) for all housing regulations, McCarthy said.

Tribes and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which administers NAHASDA, have had a fractious dispute over whether tribes or their housing entities were being properly consulted by HUD.

The issue led to the collapse of a consultation meeting last year and an impasse that has yet to be

broken.

Ted L. Key, director of HUD's Office of Native American Programs, was not available to discuss NAHASDA issues by deadline.

Sovereignty issues like consultation underline NAHASDA's revolutionary impact. The fact that the words "Self Determination" are part of the Act's title has been hugely significant, although the subsequent tribal battles with HUD over implementation have been painful for both parties.

One of NAHASDA goals has been to devolve responsibility for government housing money to the tribes or each nation's housing entity. It did this by abolishing at one throw all the old HUD programs, such as Mutual Help, that have been a mainstay of the Indian housing landscape since IHAs began in the 1960s.

Instead of these HUD-administered programs, tribes got their housing assistance under NAHASDA as a block grant, in theory to use in whatever way they decided under their sovereignty.

Implementation of the "self determination" aspect has been rocky. HUD officials and representatives from tribal housing entities negotiated the regulations for the new Act following its initial approval. HUD has held regular, and frequent, housing summits to consult with tribes as NAHASDA went into effect. After the initial phase tribes have been vocal in calling for all subsequent regs to be hashed out through negotiated rulemaking, something HUD has resisted.

Events came to a head last summer, after many housing entities found a long-delayed HUD policy on consultation to be inadequate. Many Indian housing officials staged a mutiny from a summit in St. Paul, Minn., making the smoldering and yet-to-be-resolved rift public.

The second revolutionary aspect of NAHASDA was its directive to tribes to leverage their housing grant money by bringing in lenders and other financing sources.

"The last two years, they've learned more about the leveraging part," said CIHD's McCarthy. "We're growing into it." HUD has also pitched in on the leveraging aspect through increased use of two of its guarantee programs.

Success stories for bringing outside funding into Indian housing include partnerships with mortgage lenders, use of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and even bond financing. Specific examples include:

o A $350 million commitment to Indian country housing by Fannie Mae, the Washington, DC-based semi-governmental mortgage agency.

o A $100 million commitment to insure tribal mortgages from PMI Mortgage Insurance Co., San Francisco.

o A $100 million commitment to buy HUD Title VI loans by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle.

o Targeted Indian lending by major mortgage lenders such as Washington Mutual Bank, Seattle, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Des Moines, Iowa, and BancOne Mortgage, Indianapolis.

o Non-profit intermediary work, such as the Enterprise Foundation developing projects in New Mexico using the Low Income Housing Tax Credit to bring institutional investors into Indian housing.

o The White Mountain Apache Tribe of Arizona issuing a $25 million mortgage revenue bond to fund housing on the Fort Apache reservation.

Has NAHASDA worked? More money has helped, as yearly appropriations have climbed from $485 million to the current level of $620 million. The willingness of tribes to reach out for new financing has also grown. The willingness of HUD to promote individual-guaranteed Indian mortgages and its Title VI guarantee authority to secure gap financing has also risen.

According to Chester Carl, chairman of the Navajo Housing Authority and the NAIHC, who endorsed NAHASDA reauthorization last year, Indian housing production, units built or planned, tripled the first year NAHASDA went into effect and doubled the next from a previously static level of about 2,000 units per year.

That statistic points to the bottom line. In spite of NAHASDA's occasionally rocky road, it has been an undeniable success putting thousands more needy Indian families into new housing and doing so under the aegis of their own sovereign governments, rather than that of the United States.