Tribes, lenders and federal housing officials have met in North Dakota to try to jumpstart private lending on Indian homelands in the state.
Sponsored by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the first Great Plains Regional Housing Conference was held in Bismarck, North Dakota during the first week of August and featured addresses by HUD Secretary Julian Castro and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).
A big reason for the meeting was to bring tribes and lenders together “so they can both navigate housing and infrastructure resources on tribal land. Too often, such resources are hindered by complex rules or jurisdiction issues that deter both tribes and private lenders from pursuing new housing projects – which includes home building as well as the roads, sewage, and electrical grid systems needed to support those developments,” according to Heitkamp.
The meeting follows a request made by Heitkamp to Castro last October to convene a meeting to address “the dire need to build public-private partnerships necessary to help both tribes and private financial institutions like small banks.”
Another reason for the conference was to “make sure tribes are able to access existing federal housing resources.”
Heitkamp discussed the severe housing challenges faced by tribal communities in North Dakota. “According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data provided by HUD, those living in North Dakotan tribal communities live in poverty at 2.7 times the rate of the rest of the country and often lack a kitchen, plumbing or live in overcrowded conditions almost four times more often than Americans nationwide.”
Castro told the housing conference “too many Native youth go to bed each night in overcrowded, dilapidated homes unfit to withstand the harsh winters. At this summit, we’re working to change that by connecting Native communities with resources and programs that will expand access to healthy and affordable housing.”
The visit by Castro was a follow up to a trip to North Dakota in 2014 arranged by the Senator where the HUD Secretary visited the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and announced $6 million in grants in Belcourt, North Dakota to assist the tribe in mold remediation for reservation housing.
Heitkamp told the meeting she hoped tribes will see improvements as a result of the summit. Oftentimes, she told tribal leaders, “you can’t house your people in a way that dignifies their status as members of your tribe. That is a crisis.”
Housing, she said, is “foundational” for Indian people. To solve the problem “it takes something different we’re not doing now.”
At the conference “We’re going to hit the reset button. We’re going to start turning this issue around and re-examine and re-finalize our opportunities for Indian housing, especially in the Great Plains.”
She also said that accurate Census counts are important, since housing funding is partly based on population.
Castro told the meeting that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe recently has participated in the HUD-VASH program to help house homeless veterans. Until recently tribes did not participate in the VASH program, but it has now been given a tribal component. The SRST is located on both sides of the North Dakota-South Dakota boundary.
Castro told tribal leaders that HUD is currently working on a Native housing study to identify problems and opportunities on Indian reservations. He also told them that HUD has requested an additional $50 million to fund Native housing in fiscal 2017.