Oklahoma Choctaw to Head NAIHC

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SAN DIEGO ? The National American Indian Housing Council has named its new chairman, Russell Sossamon, executive director of the Housing Authority of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Sossamon beat A. Brian Wallace, chairman of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, in a close vote, 77 to 74, at the group's annual convention here.

Wallace is a former official of the Washoe Housing Authority. On an earlier ballot, the two tied at 67 votes apiece, with 17 votes going to the head of the Pueblo of Acoma Housing Authority, Raymond Concho Jr.

The new chairman replaces long-term NAIHC chairman Chester Carl, who is also chairman of the Navajo Housing Authority.

Sossamon pledged to fight for the reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA). He called for increased housing funding under NAHASDA and for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to agree on negotiated rulemaking with the Indian Housing Authorities and tribally designated housing entities (TDHEs) whenever it seeks to change regulations. The NAIHC represents the interests of those two types of tribal housing bodies.

Sossamon, a Choctaw tribal member, lives in Hugo, Okla. with wife Laura and sons William and Aaron. He is a graduate of Oklahoma State University, Durant, Okla.

The new chairman has been serving on the board of NAIHC and is the president of the Southern Plains Indian Housing Association.

Sossamon joins new NAIHC executive director Gary Gordon, hired four months ago, at the top of the leadership of the trade group, which has several hundred members.

Gordon, a former housing director for the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, told the conference that NAIHC technical assistance specialists made 160 visits to tribes and TDHEs last year, free of charge.

Gordon also reported on NAIHC grants to help small tribes develop housing capacity. Over $700,000 has been distributed to more than 30 tribes, and more than 500 people have taken part in the group's Leadership Institute. Amerind Risk Management Corp. of Albuquerque, N.M. and the non-profit Enterprise Foundation are NAIHC's partners in the small tribes program.

The group's web site has expanded to include a Native American Housing Program Index (also available on CD), that lists all funding sources, the director reported.

Gordon listed the issues facing NAIHC as a general lack of knowledge relating to tribes, federal hindrances to tribal leveraging of funds and the maintenance and increase of funding levels. He also criticized the continuing vacancy of HUD's top Indian position, the Deputy Assistant Secretary in charge of its Office of Native American Programs.

That job has been vacant for a year, since Jacqueline Johnson departed to become the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. Johnson is a former executive director of NAIHC.