Indian Housing: Obama Gives, But Congress May Take Away

Indian Housing: Obama Gives, But Congress May Take Away

Mark Fogarty
2/22/11

WASHINGTON- President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2012 would boost funding for American Indian housing to a record $700 million, but the Congressional battle over the “continuing resolution” to keep the government going for fiscal 2011 might cut pending funding for 2011 to just $500 million, the lowest in many years.

The see-saw replicates the one at the start of the Obama Administration. Then, $510 million in additional funding was authorized through the stimulus bill, but the budget proposal for the next year was cut back, to $580 million.

Congress has the responsibility for approving the budget and the President’s original proposal is almost always changed, either up or down.

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan told the recent legislative conference of the National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) here that tribes have done a commendable job of committing the stimulus funds, with 75 percent of the extra amount drawn down for projects.

He said that for fiscal 2010, tribes used federal housing funding to build 1,100 affordable housing units and another 8,000 rehabs.

Donovan said the increase in the Indian housing budget amount to $700 million was impressive because the total HUD budget request is down by about 1 percent. An additional $10 million, for the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant (NHHBG) program will help develop 65 homes, the Secretary said.

NAIHC has called for $875 million to fund the housing block grants. Cheryl Causley, NAIHC chair, said HR 1, the continuing resolution just passed by the House, contains just $500 million for the 2011 housing block grants, and no money for the Native Hawaiian program. The Senate has yet to vote on the continuing resolution.

Total housing aid in all programs including the Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG) comes to $782 million. The ICDBG money ($65 million) would help support 6,000 jobs in Indian country, Donovan said.

HUD’s section 184 guaranteed mortgage program is set to be funded for $7 million, which Donovan said would guarantee $480 million in loans, and help 2,900 families buy or upgrade homes. The $7 million is lower than the $9 million enacted in fiscal 2009.

A second HUD Indian loan program, the Title VI, is in the budget for $2 million, level to recent years.  The Title VI program is used for infrastructure and project loans.

The Secretary said Indian country will benefit from  $170 million in HUD planning grants around the country. The Spokane Tribe of Indians in Washington State, for instance, has received $1.5 million to plan a mixed-income community.

HUD’s new Rural Innovation Fund has been budgeted at $25 million, with a $5 million tribal setaside. This program replaces the old Rural Housing and Economic Development fund, which also funded Indian housing programs.

Donovan said HUD is launching a three-year effort to document and study housing needs in Indian country. The last time one was done by HUD was in 1995, he said, and it estimated a need for 90,000 affordable homes.

NAIHC has estimated a need for 250,000 housing  units in Indian country.

Bryan Newland, counselor to the assistant secretary in the Office of Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, told the NAIHC conference that 54,000 acres of land have been taken back into trust status, including 47,000 last year.

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