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Progress Made on Housing Hearing Promises

WASHINGTON - One down and three more in process.

That's the tally from Rep. Rick Renzi's office on the promises the Arizona
Congressman made during the first-ever House housing hearing on Indian
land.

The House housing and community development opportunity subcommittee
hearing held in Tuba City, Ariz. in May has already produced a successful
bill that would restore lost guarantee authority in the Title VI Indian
loan program to its initial 95 percent.

The first-term Republican told Indian Country Today however that part two
of the Title VI fix he promised in May on the Navajo Nation faces "an
uphill battle."

That's the impending "rescission" of $54 million in Title VI and Housing
and Urban Development section 184 Indian guarantee money back to the U.S.
Treasury. This money, authorized but never obligated, would support more
than $500 million in Indian housing projects and infrastructure and will be
lost if not used by the end of fiscal year 2005.

The Congressman said he has tried to get a fix through the current Veterans
Administration-HUD appropriations bill, which was being deliberated on in
the past several weeks, but that it looked likely a legislative fix would
be required.

Talking points prepared by Rep. Renzi's staff noted that Indian use of
these programs "has been slow as it has taken tribes, particularly the
smaller ones, some time to adjust to the new programs and using these loan
guarantees." But, "should some rescission of these funds be deemed
necessary, the funds appropriated only in years prior to fiscal years 2003
and 2004 (should) be targeted, as 2003 and 2004 funds have only recently
become available to the tribes."

Just $77 million in Title VI loans has been obligated since program
inception through the Native American Housing Assistance and
Self-Determination Act of 1996, including a $50 million loan to build some
500 houses on the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Another promise, to have a housing workshop on Indian land, is close to
completion as one has been scheduled for the San Carlos Apache reservation
in Arizona.

The workshop will bring in private lenders as well as Indian housing
officials to discuss access to private capital for Indian housing.

It will also look at the Apache Dawn project at the White Mountain Apache
Reservation to see if that complicated financing can be used as a model for
other tribes to get large amounts of money for big housing projects. (In
the WMA case, a $25 million mortgage revenue bond was issued, and to date
more than 300 houses have been planned or built on its reservation.)

The workshop also will discuss how to design and finance a Title VI
project, in an attempt to get projects to take down more of that guarantee
money before it reverts to Treasury.

Rep. Renzi and subcommittee chairman Bob Ney, R-Ohio, promised at the Tuba
City hearing to have a frank discussion with BIA officials about the
agency's incredible title search report backup, estimated to be more than
100 staff-years long.

Rep. Renzi said that he and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and members of
Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank's staff called in BIA director Dave
Anderson and members of his staff and had that frank discussion. The delays
in getting TSRs done hampers any transfers of property in Indian country
and particularly slows down mortgage finance.

Rep. Renzi said he and Rep. Matheson concluded a legislative fix to the
problem is necessary. Their idea is to "allow tribes the option of
privatizing the title search process" and take it in-house. Draft
legislation is expected by the end of August.

Rep. Renzi's rural district, larger than the state of Illinois, includes
the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation, as well as the Hopi, two Apache
tribes, and several other smaller tribes. Rep. Matheson's district includes
the Utah reach of the Navajo.

Rep. Renzi detailed a couple of other Indian initiatives under way not
promised at the Tuba City hearing.

They include an initiative to allow borrowers under the Rural Housing
Service section 502 program to finance the guarantee fee on top of the
value of the transaction.

While not an Indian-only program, the RHS 502 has been an effective
mortgage in Indian country. The guarantee fee, traditionally 1.5 percent,
has just been raised to 1.75 percent, making additional closing costs
necessary for borrowers in the program.

In addition, the two Congressman are looking at a House version of a Senate
bill introduced by Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. They'd like to allow Indian
housing entities to establish and manage reserve accounts, to retain unused
block grant money for more than one year, and to allow Indian housing
entities or tribes to qualify for Youthbuild grants.