1. Update
  2. Native Americans

Following the Money: Indian Housing and Economic Development

Funding in the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill

August 21, 2017

Assurance of safe and secure shelter is critical for anyone’s survival and potential, especially in some of the harsh climates to which Native people have been consigned in the “lower 48,” and in the original homelands of Alaska Natives. Yet Native Americans and Alaska Natives living in Indian country are much less likely than the rest of the nation to have a physically adequate home, with appropriate plumbing, kitchen facilities, heating, structures and protection from the elements.

According to a study released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in January 2017, physical housing problems – overcrowding, structural problems, or lack of adequate plumbing, kitchen, electricity, or heating facilities – are almost non-existent in the U.S. overall. For example, only about 2 percent of US households lack adequate heating utilities. But on tribal lands and in Alaska Native villages, that number is about 12 percent.

The facts seem to call for a concentrated campaign to ensure adequate housing for all Native people, in keeping with treaties, promises, and legislation adopted over many decades. But the President’s budget proposal zeroed out most of the Indian housing accounts.

In a letter to appropriators, FCNL and our faith partners called for increases in funding for Indian housing accounts, citing the HUD study and its conclusions that approximately 68,000 new housing units were needed on tribal lands and in Alaska Native villages, and that the current self-governing framework authorized in the 1996 Native American Self-Determination and Housing Act (NAHASDA) are more effective in providing housing than previous funding models. The primary barrier to assuring access to adequate housing in Indian Country, the study concluded, was adequate funding.

The House Subcommittee on Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development (excerpts provided here) continued most of the funding for Indian Housing at the levels approved in the FY 2017 appropriations process, but did not take on a focused effort to press for more progress on access to housing in Indian country. This subcommittee’s counterpart in the Senate made similar recommendations (excerpts here), with variances noted below. Both subcommittees’ recommendations were approved by their respective full Appropriations Committees, and both bills are now ready for floor action.

The Indian Housing Block Grant is the single largest source of federal funding of housing development, housing-related infrastructure, and home maintenance in Indian country, according the National American Indian Housing Council’s (NAIHC) letter to Congress.

NAIHC recommended $900 million dollars for this account, which would have brought it back up to its original buying power when it was established in 1998. The President recommended $600 million; House appropriators approved the current (FY2017) funding level of $654 million. Senate appropriators approved $655 million, with $2 million designated for Title VI loan guarantees – a key element in building partnerships with local governments and private entities to invest in community development.

Both House and Senate committees took similar action on the Indian Community Development Block Grant, appropriating $60 million, the same as in FY2017. The President had proposed $0; NAIHC had recommended $100 million.

NAIHC recommended $10 million for the Section 184 Loan Guarantee program for individual potential homeowners. Because of the trust or restricted status of tribal lands, traditional mortgages for homebuyers are often not possible. The loan guarantees help bridge that gap. House appropriators approved $7.2 million for the individual mortgage guarantees (Section 184), but the Senate only approved $1 million.

The Appropriations Committees in both houses approved funds for Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing to end homelessness among Native veterans who are on or near reservations. Since a high proportion of young Native Americans serve in the Armed Forces, many return as veterans – some with recovery challenges -- without a continued source of income. The House approved $7 million, continuing FY2017 funding. The Senate committee approved $5 million, $2 million less than the President’s proposal.