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Shuravloff continues to meet national housing challenges

WASHINGTON – Marty Shuravloff got into Indian housing the hard way, beginning a long tenure as executive director of Kodiak Island Housing Authority in 1996, the year the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act redefined Indian housing authorities.

With block grants they could tailor for tribal needs, tribal housing programs that had offered public housing could now become “strictly Indian,” but not everyone knew for sure how that would work. Not everyone was sure how the so-called Section 184 housing loan guarantee program would go over. Though NAHASDA has since proved its worth as a housing program for one of the country’s most under-housed populations, back then not everyone was sure how a lot of things would work out, or if they would work out at all in some cases.

“There were just no answers on any of those things,” Shuravloff said, describing 1996 as “a learning year for me, to say the very least.”

A look at his track record says a little more. He learned well enough to earn three Department of Housing and Urban Development Best Practice awards for the Rental Assistance Program for Students, the Family Investment Center and the Creating Jobs in Building Maintenance Programs. A HUD Apprenticeship and Training Program, the first in Alaska certified by the Department of Labor, brought an Outstanding Leadership Award in Economic Development. For the Leisnoi Village-enrolled member, a number of awards and positions within the state of Alaska ensued, extending his skills to the realms of finance and corporate governance.

But as far as the member housing authorities of the National American Indian Housing Council are concerned, his best move may have been a simple decision to remain on the sidelines as a bitter dispute evolved in Indian country over data sets of the U.S. Census and their consequences for HUD funding. It was an easy decision for Shuravloff, because the Kodiak Island Housing Authority made out just about as well under either data set. By staying out of the fray, however, he made no enemies over the issue that has divided parts of Indian country since 2003. And so he emerged in 2006 as a potential unifier, elected to chair NAIHC at one of the most challenging stages of its 32-year history.

Following his testimony at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on housing June 28 and an NAIHC media conference afterward, Shuravloff outlined the three priorities that will shape the council’s future.

At the top of his list is the reauthorization of NAHASDA, which expires as an ongoing statute in 2007. The issue before NAIHC, as Indian country’s premier Washington presence on housing, is whether to advocate for a simple reauthorization – a comparatively sure thing to get through Congress – or to use the occasion to address tribal concerns with the statute as it stands.

Among these legislative and regulatory concerns that could be dealt with in a reauthorized NAHASDA are improvements in data collection and reporting under the federal Program Assessment Rating Tool, the scores on which can drive program funding or derail it; reserve accounts as a NAHASDA-eligible activity; fair market rents, as opposed to a 30 percent-of-income ceiling on rents at NAHASDA units; and a handful of other items that might inspire congressional debate. The risk is that full debate on NAHASDA might delay, or even postpone, reauthorization. An internal NAIHC study, to be finalized in December, will identify the many issues around reauthorization as a guide to a final NAIHC decision.

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Those census data sets mentioned above are another priority. The U.S. Census of 1990 and of 2000 differ in that the first permitted only single-race identification as American Indian or Alaska Native. The second included a multiple-race category, as in “AIAN alone and in combination with other racial groups.”

For exhaustively complex reasons, the difference has a bearing on the HUD formula for arriving at Indian Housing Block Grant amounts. HUD opted for the multiple-race data set as part of its formula for calculating Indian Housing Block Grants, arguing for it as “the most inclusive definition of AIAN persons,” under which “no such persons are excluded” from IHBG eligibility. In addition, HUD states in testimony before Congress, “The increase in the number of people who identify as AIAN [in data sets drawn from the 2000 Census] – regardless of whether they are AIAN alone or AIAN in combination with other racial groups – is used for very limited purposes in the IHBG formula.” HUD runs its calculations for each tribal housing authority according to both the 1990 and 2000 data sets, and awards the grant that turns out higher.

Nonetheless, Shuvraloff said, some tribes get more and some get less under single- or mixed-race formulas, leading to serious disagreement as HUD funding has dwindled against inflation. “This has been a divisive issue for Indian country since 2003,” he added, when HUD began using the 2000 data set.

An NAIHC task force on the different data sets will put its conclusions to a vote of the council membership in December, Shuvraloff said.

Finally, Shuvraloff hopes to help re-establish the NAIHC training and technical assistance programs that have been threatened by a decline in federal appropriations, due in large part to a disagreement with HUD over past expenditures. In brief, HUD maintains that NAIHC has “undisbursed” and “unobligated” funds – in a word, “carryover” – from 2004 through 2006. NAIHC insists these “in the pipeline” funds have been spent but not billed to HUD for reimbursement, largely because of “the many administrative delays in NAIHC’s work contract with HUD,” according to Shuvraloff’s remarks at the June 28 hearing. In other words, NAIHC argues that it has incurred the cost of HUD-approved activities without being reimbursed.

The impasse has influenced a federal budget approved in the House of Representatives, proposing only $990,000 for NAIHC’s technical assistance and training programs in fiscal year 2007. Unless the Senate boosts that appropriation, Shuvraloff testified June 28, “the NAIHC will close its doors in or around January of 2007.”

NAIHC will continue to approach Congress for a more robust technical assistance and training appropriation; and through Rodger Boyd, deputy assistant secretary at the department’s Office of Native American Programs, it will continue to pursue the difference between “undisbursed” and “unreimbursed” funds.

“I think Rodger tries to do the right thing,” Shuvraloff said. “And I would hope we’ll be able to sit down and figure out the right thing.”