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Tribal rural housing opportunities increase

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WASHINGTON - Tribes have a shot at getting a significant percentage of $25 million in the federal government's 2001 round of rural housing and economic development funding.

The program, administered by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, will publish a notice of funding availability (NOFA) for the money in the first quarter of this year, the third year of funding for the program.

In 1999, 19 tribes received grants totaling $5.2 million out of $27 million awarded, while in fiscal 2000, 25 tribes got $5.5 million of a total $24.75 million. The funding categories are capacity building, with an average grant of $150,000, support for innovative activities, with an average award of $500,000, and seed money, with an average grant of $200,000.

Capacity building funds staffing, accounting systems, and strategic plans, said program director Jackie Mitchell, who has a staff of three. Innovative activities funding includes hard costs for building homes or rehabs, plus infrastructure needs. Seed support is for new rural nonprofits or community development corporations. There is a special emphasis on underserved areas, including Indian reservations, the Mississippi Delta, Appalachia, Mexican border colonies, farm workers and areas with populations of 2,500 or less.

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Funding is in addition to that provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under its Rural Housing Service - which has been a force in Indian country with its RHS 502 and 504 loans - and HUD's tribal housing block grants. The program was initiated by former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo but his chief of staff Jacquie Lawing said she is confident it will continue under new Secretary Mel Martinez. Lawing said the program enjoys bipartisan support in Congress.

Mitchell said the impact of initial grants to help rural non-profits and community development corporations should be seen within the next year from a $360,000 funding in 2000 to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, as an example. The project will build model homes using alternative building methods. Three different construction companies will each build a house. A Cherokee "Force Account" crew will build a fourth, using the best method developed. That method would be used in the future.

The Fort Berthold Housing Authority in North Dakota got a $500,000 grant in FY 2000 to help develop a revolving loan fund. The goal is to create 150 small businesses, 50 storefront businesses, and 200 microenterprises.

Applicants for money from the Independence Loan Fund will receive 70 hours of training before they start their ventures. Nonprofit Oti Kaga Inc. on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in Eagle Butte, S.D., got $100,000 in 2000 to help the housing group build capacity. Over the years, Oti Kaga has helped package local loans for housing totaling $885,910.

In Alaska last year, the Native Village of Kotzebue received $240,000 to help establish the for-profit Nunavik LLC. This startup intends to employ 25 people in the village to manufacture Structural Insulated Panels and polystyrene boards. And the Oagan Tayungin Tribe of Sand Point received $97,643 to help start up an ice-making business.