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Liu out?

WASHINGTON - The Department of Housing and Urban Development may soon lose
its assistant secretary for Public and Indian Housing (PIH), an activist
who has achieved big increases in a federal guarantee program for American
Indian mortgages.

Michael Liu was still listed as the head of PIH April 3 on HUD's Web site,
although the National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) said in a
news release that HUD had confirmed his imminent departure.

He also was continuing to boost Native homeownership in what may be the
last days of his tenure. On March 30, Liu was set to participate in an
announcement of an expansion of the HUD 184 American Indian home loan
guarantee program at the Pascua Yaqui tribe in Arizona.

The second terms of presidencies often see a large turnover in staff,
either voluntary or otherwise, and Liu's departure would roughly coincide
with the reported resignation of another top HUD official, housing
commissioner John Weicher.

NAIHC saluted Liu, noting his efforts with the HUD 184 and Title VI loan
guarantee programs, both of which he has "vigorously promoted to spur
home-ownership in Indian country."

On the negative side, NAIHC Executive Director Gary Gordon said, "Liu has
done little to reverse a tendency of the federal government toward
unilateral decision-making."

According to HUD's biography of Liu, he has doubled the volume in the HUD
184 program since he was named to head PIH in September 2001. More than
$200 million in HUD 184s are now on the books.

Liu, a former banker with Bank of America and the Federal Home Loan Bank of
Chicago, instituted bank-like mortgage quotas for each of HUD's six
regional Indian offices. A Hawaiian who has some Native Hawaiian heritage,
he previously served as an official in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

NAIHC also noted that Liu "has visited more tribes than any predecessor"
and represented HUD at many NAIHC meetings.

Chester Carl, chairman of both NAIHC and the Navajo Housing Authority,
said, "Liu has also encouraged tribes to improve documentation of their
housing activities in order to substantiate their funding requests, and has
been relentless in his encouragement to tribes to leverage their basic
housing monies."

Liu's remarks to tribes were notable for their candor: he took care to
announce the latest figures for the HUD 184 program and repeatedly warned
tribes to commit their housing block grants quickly to projects or risk
being hurt by federal Office of Management and Budget "scoring" of the
federal grants' effectiveness. Tribes and HUD's Office of Native American
Programs moved quickly to account for the status of money given them by the
federal government.

Liu also acted to increase the geographic scope of HUD 184 and its
potential for higher volumes. Designed to stimulate heretofore non-existent
mortgage lending in Indian areas, it has been limited to reservations or
Indian areas in states without reservations, like Oklahoma and Alaska.

Now, however, tribes can petition HUD to increase the scope of the 184 to
off-reservation areas where they have had a traditional presence or where
they now have a significant number of tribal members.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida became the first to take advantage of this
provision. Now, any Seminole tribal member living anywhere in Florida is
eligible for a HUD 184, not just Seminoles on the tribe's multiple Florida
reservations.

The Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin also has expanded its HUD 184 area, and
the announcement of a "major expansion" of the HUD 184 for the Pascua Yaqui
is probably another.

Liu's apparent departure comes as the Bush administration moves to slash
Native housing funding by 15 percent for fiscal year 2006. A more than $100
million proposed cut would come through a reduction in Native American
Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) block grant funding
and eliminating funding for the Indian Community Development Block Grant
program.

Some of that money may be recouped during the budget process, in which
Congress often returns money the administration wants cut. HUD's Rural
Housing and Economic Development program, which usually grants 25 - 33
percent of its $25 million budget annually to Indian projects, has been
zeroed out three times by the administration and restored each year by
Congress.

The administration has reaffirmed its commitment to fund HUD 184 and the
Title VI program, although one Native housing observer noted that reducing
the NAHASDA block grant could also serve to hinder the growth of the Title
VI program, since those loans are collateralized by NAHASDA money.