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Liu not happy with rule pace

LAS VEGAS - The nation's top American Indian housing regulator is disappointed with the results to date of negotiated rulemaking with Native housing leaders over the formula used to determine how much assistance goes to each tribe.

Michael Liu, the federal Housing and Urban Development assistant secretary for Public and Indian Housing, said, "We've accomplished very little" through six rounds of negotiated rulemaking this year. A seventh and final "neg reg" meeting is set for January.

"We need more cooperation," he told the legal symposium held by the National American Indian Housing Council. "I hope there can be more consensus than there is today."

In negotiated rulemaking, all parties must come to a consensus to change something or else the status quo is maintained. Liu deplored what he called "conditional" consensus that can be reneged on if someone doesn't like the final accord.

HUD and national Indian housing leaders had a fruitful negotiated rulemaking on the original rules set up to implement the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) after it was passed in 1996, but it has been a bone of contention since then.

The negotiated process to review the funding formula was mandated in the original legislation, but no action to change it is mandatory.

Indian "neg reg" representatives like Jack Sawyers and NAIHC Chairman Russell Sossamon disputed Liu's take on the process after the assistant secretary spoke, saying they thought the joint rulemaking, an acknowledgement of tribal sovereignty, was useful.

Liu had more positive news to share with Indian housing lawyers and leaders at the meeting, such as the fact it appears as if Indian housing will receive a hard-won extra $10 million for fiscal year 2004.

"We did pretty well," he said, despite a mandatory "haircut" on all domestic spending. The boost was achieved, in part, by new performance measures that reviewed whether Indian housing money was being spent by tribes.

"NAHASDA funds are being obligated and spent in a relatively timely fashion," Liu told the meeting.

He said there was good and bad news about HUD's Native homeownership ventures - that while their use increased in fiscal year 2003, hundreds of millions of dollars of authorized credit remains unused.

For the HUD section 184 100 percent guaranteed mortgage, Liu pointed to a volume that exceeded the agency's goals by 36 percent. And the Title VI program, intended for larger, "project" loans, was also up 13 percent.

But, "we need to do even better," he said. The 184 program "is the key tool that we have," and yet as of Nov. 30, $591 million of credit authority remains unused.

For Title VI, which is 95 percent guaranteed by HUD and collateralized by future NAHASDA grants, $372 million in credit authority remains unused, Liu said.

The HUD 184 program has made more than 1,300 loans since inception, Liu said, and performs a double function in that it moves people out of assisted rental housing and allows low-income people on tribal waiting lists to move into the units vacated.

He noted that the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago (where he worked before coming to HUD) has just bought its first HUD 184 loan, from Chippewa Valley Bank, and plans three more by the end of this year. While the pace is slow, he admitted, "you create a secondary market one loan at a time."

Title VI, which tends to be used by tribes rather than individual Indians, is a great opportunity for tribes to build partnerships with lenders, the lack of which is one of the big barriers remaining to developing Indian homeownership.

"I'm willing to get involved personally to make these loans happen," he told the meeting.

He is hoping that the HUD 184 loan can be expanded to include tribal members outside of tribal lands, in an effort to use up some of that untapped credit.

Liu endorsed the idea of regional housing summits in each of HUD's six districts as a way to promote "local solutions" to Indian housing problems. HUD has run a series of national Indian housing summits around the country in previous years.

Finally, he noted that in Alphonso Jackson, the new acting HUD secretary, who is replacing the just-resigned Mel Martinez, "Native America will have a friend."