Legal symposium tackles health and housing issues

Mark Fogarty
12/28/05

TITLE VI PROGRAM UTILIZATION URGED

LAS VEGAS -- The new federal assistant secretary for Public and Indian
Housing is urging tribes to develop relationships with banks by opening up
new sources of funding through an underused loan program 95 percent
guaranteed by the government.

Orlando Cabrera, who has just replaced Michael Liu as the Department of
Housing and Urban Development's highest-ranking Indian housing official,
told a Las Vegas meeting that the Title VI loan program would make an
effective vehicle for tribes to forge ties with the private sector to
stretch the housing assistance they receive from the government.

Cabrera told the legal symposium of the National American Indian Housing
Council that the "underutilized" Title VI program, which allows tribes to
borrow five times the "need" component of their annual housing block grant
money, is "enormously" effective for financing the infrastructure needed to
support Indian housing.

"Now it is time to put it to best use," he told housing officials. Five
times the new housing "need" component of all tribes (the other component
is maintaining existing homes) would amount to more than $1 billion
annually.

Tribes have been wary of the Title VI program because it uses their housing
block grants as collateral for repayment.

Other ways tribes can stretch the block grants they get under the Native
American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, Cabrera said,
include state Housing Finance Agencies, the federal Rural Development
agency, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, the HOME program, the
New Market Tax Credit, housing vouchers, and private sources like Freddie
Mac and Fannie Mae.

Tribes have received about $5 billion in NAHASDA money since the program's
inception in 1998, but it is generally thought that the current Indian
housing problem will take a multiple of three to five times that amount to
resolve -- without considering ever-expanding tribal populations.

Cabrera noted that Title VI's sister program, the HUD 184 loan, has passed
2,500 loans and $265 million in finance.

Fiscal 2005 was a record year for the program, with 634 loans closed and
$77 million in mortgages. In 2004, the numbers were 619 loans and $62.7
million in volume.

An "expanded areas" program has yielded 41 loans through 23 tribes to date.

In Alaska, where construction costs are higher, Cabrera noted that higher
Federal Housing Administration loan limits have been adopted for the HUD
184, meaning it can close more loans in the state's rural areas.

Cabrera detailed recently approved Indian housing appropriations for fiscal
2006, which started Oct. 1. Basically they remained level with 2005
dollars, a significant victory after a 15 percent cut had been suggested.

The HUD 184 was given $4 million in guarantee money, translating to $116
million in lending authority, and Title VI $900,000, which would cover
$35.7 million in loans.

The final numbers included an $8 million addition to the block grant money
to fund a fix to a very contentious issue relating to the formula used to
calculate how much each tribe gets in assistance.

In 2000, for the first time, the Census Bureau allowed people to designate
themselves as multi-racial, which increased the number of Indians by a
large percentage but skewed the balance among tribes that have maintained
more single-race members (the Navajo, for instance) and those with a lot of
mixed-race populations.

The $8 million will allow each tribe to use whichever method of counting is
to their advantage. However, the funds are not a net gain for Indian
housing, as they have been deducted from the Indian Community Development
Block Grant, which was cut to $60 million.

Native Hawaiians have been given $8.8 million in block grant money, and
$900,000 for their version of the HUD 184 program, which would guarantee
$35.7 million in loans.

HUD's Rural Housing and Economic Development program, which always includes
grants for tribal areas, was funded at $17 million.

Cabrera commented that appropriations was "a difficult process but it's
done."

He also told tribal housing leaders that there will be a meeting in January
in Denver or Phoenix to discuss comments received on proposed formula rule
changes, as well as an announcement on a negotiated rulemaking committee on
NAHASDA amendments which will be published soon in the Federal Register.

METH EPIDEMIC REVIEWED

Methamphetamine use has reached epidemic levels in Indian country and is
"ravaging our communities," according to the new first vice president of
the National Congress of American Indians.

Jefferson Keel, lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation, told the legal
symposium of the National American Indian Housing Council in Las Vegas that
meth abuse is not just a problem in Indian housing but in all areas of
Indian communities, with mobile labs in the trunks of cars being used to
cook up the addictive substance.

Keel said NCAI was pleased with the work of NAIHC in addressing the meth
epidemic. NCAI in October met with key attorneys general from Indian areas,
the FBI, the BIA law enforcement section, the Drug Enforcement
Administration, the White House and tribal leaders to come up with an
action plan to combat the drug.

Recommendations will be released soon, Keel said; and national
representation, in the form of state, federal and tribal governments, "is
crucial to the solution."

In Oklahoma, for instance, he said there are "huge problems" across
jurisdictional lines that need to be resolved.

On other matters, Keel said NCAI will work with NAIHC and other entities to
craft a national tribal budget request and will support tribe-friendly tax
proposals like a tax credit and accelerated depreciation.

He noted that the budget reconciliation process has called for big spending
cuts which will affect student loans, Social Security, food stamps and
other provisions, and said these cuts will be placed "on the backs of poor
people."

Land issues are also of critical importance, he told the housing officials.
The Department of the Interior had legislation passed in 2000 and 2003
"without ever completing the regulations," he said. But draft regulations
from BIA are due soon and are "critical to Indian housing and all of Indian
country."

ELDERS HOUSING VIDEO ADDRESSES NEEDS

NAIHC unveiled a new video called "Our Elders and Their Homes" at the
symposium.

The video was narrated by singer Joanne Shenandoah, Oneida, who also
performed the group's new theme song, "Home is Love."

The video, produced by NAIHC's research director, Valerie Seneca and
others, looks at four elder housing situations around Indian country.

The first was in South Dakota, at the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation,
where $271,000 was authorized by the tribes to build a nursing home for
elderly CRST members.

Even though the tribe has elderly "housing manors," some of the elders
there need nursing help. However, the nearest nursing home was 90 miles
from Eagle Butte, and elders resisted going there because they wanted to
stay near their families.

At the Chitimacha reservation in Louisiana, the tribe saw the need for an
assisted living facility to keep low-income elders in the community. So it
spent $1.5 million to develop 16 units.

The trouble is, as the video detailed, less than half are occupied because
the elders do not want to leave their homes. So the tribe is "back at
square one."

The Penobscot Tribe of Maine, which has 157 low-income elders, is also
looking to an assisted living facility to help about 20 elders.

And the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon is pursuing senior
housing as part of a strategy to reunite the tribe, which has been widely
scattered after being terminated. Currently it has 50 elder families in
three developments.

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