Tribes endorse NAHASDA, ask for more funding

WASHINGTON - Tribes have endorsed the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act, saying the law, up for reauthorization this year, has doubled and tripled housing production on reservations.

The Congress not only should reauthorize the act, tribal housing leaders said at a press conference, but should increase funding for 69 percent, to $1.1 billion a year, to take care of unmet housing need.

Eighty-four percent of 71 tribes surveyed by the National American Indian Housing Council endorsed the act, which has given tribes control over housing assistance. Tribes also identified what they felt were flaws as well.

Chester Carl, council chairman who heads the Navajo Housing Authority, called the act a "huge success" overall and noted that tribal housing production tripled the year it was implemented, and doubled the year after.

Under its predecessor, the 1937 Housing Act, the most housing units developed or planned in any one year was 2,000, Carl said. Six thousand units were planned or developed in the self-determination act's first year. It replaced Department of Housing and Urban Development programs like Mutual Help with block grants tribes can use as they see fit, and it directed them to stretch the money by teaming up with lenders and other financial institutions.

The council survey counted nearly 5,000 units built, rehabbed, or in the process of being developed at the 71 responding tribes, and HUD has said 25,000 units were produced or planned since the act went into effect in fiscal 1998.

Another council survey found a homeownership rate of 30 percent on tribal lands - less than half the national average.

Carl, a Navajo, called for funding to increase from $650 million in fiscal 2001 to $1.1 billion next year, to help provide an estimated 210,000 more units of housing just for current need.

He also exhorted more financial institutions to participate in leveraging the housing money, following the lead of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, PMI Mortgage Insurance, Washington Mutual Bank and others. He encouraged development of more partnerships with non-profit groups, such as the Enterprise Foundation, citing its success in promoting Indian housing in New Mexico.

Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, spoke of some perceived shortcomings. He said it has too many rules for an act that was supposed to implement self-determination. And he said HUD needed to improve its consultation process with tribes.

He said the U.S. government owes American Indians because of a string of broken treaties. "The commitment has to dome now. With a $55 billion surplus, there should be no tax cut until the country pays its debt" to Indians.

Robert Gauthier, executive director of the Salish & Kootenai Housing Authority on the Flathead Reservation in Montana, said another flaw is a lack of training and technical assistance.

Gauthier broke down the housing production plans for the 71 tribes as follows: 1,250 homes developed, 2,601 rehabilitated and 1,108 currently in the works.

Christopher Boesen, executive director of the council affiliate the Coalition for Indian Housing and Development and one of the authors of the act as a congressional staffer, said the program has proved "incredibly successful" and "a model for how all housing programs should be run at HUD."

Boesen advocated an attempt to remove "stumbling blocks" that kept housing development dollars separate from general economic development projects in Indian country.

In other council news, Luke Toyebo Jr., Kiowa, is replacing Boesen as executive director. Boesen remains for now the director of the affiliate.

Toyebo is moving up from his current position as council director of field services. He is a former director of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma Housing Authority, ex-president of the Oklahoma Indian Housing Association and a former adjunct professor at Oklahoma State University.