HUD Report: Improving Native Housing Must Be National Priority

Mark Fogarty

As the first major federal study of Native housing needs in 15 years nears the finish line, it is clear that improving housing for American Indians and Alaska Natives needs to be a national priority.

The ambitious housing needs study, being conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is scheduled to be released in April of next year. The most recent study of the topic in this depth was done by the CDFI Fund, a branch of the Treasury Department, in 2001.

Though the report is not out yet, an interim report issued last year points to its probable conclusions. “The circumstances of the American Indians and Alaska Natives population should continue to be a priority concern for national policy in these areas: continued population growth and the remaining gap between American Indians and Alaska Natives populations and other Americans,” it concludes.

The study is being done at the request of Congress. Native Hawaiian housing need is also being assessed. The department noted “The Secretary of HUD has made research about the housing needs of Native Americans a priority.”

While many in Indian country have welcomed the study, it hasn’t met with unanimous approval. Robert Two Bears, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature, sent a comment letter for the tribe when the process was started four years ago, saying that the 38-tribe survey sample being used is too small for a group of tribes where there are such wide differences in populations and circumstances. “One only needs to look at the Navajo Nation in the desert Southwest and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community near my home in Minnesota to understand the differences in population and resources that exist,” he wrote.

Two Bears also suggested that climate change be looked at as a critical housing factor and suggested self-assessment by tribes rather than by HUD.

According to the interim report, “The non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native population alone grew substantially in Indian country in the 2000s (these areas accounted for three-quarters of the growth of that population nationally over the decade).”

Also, “Gaps in well-being between the American Indian and Alaska Native populations in Indian country and other Americans remain sizable. Compared with non-Indians nationally, American Indian and Alaska Native people living in tribal areas in 2006–10 had a poverty rate and an unemployment rate that were at least twice as high.”

American Indian and Alaska Native households “in large tribal areas were more than three times as likely to live in housing that was overcrowded and more than 11 times more likely to live in housing that did not have adequate plumbing facilities.”

HUD reports that it is well on the way to completing the housing needs assessment, saying “38 of 38 tribes have approved participation in the Household Survey. The Household Survey has been completed in 32 tribal areas and we have a response rate of 73 percent for those tribes. 1,199 surveys have been completed, which is just under 94 percent of the way to our goal of 1,280 completed surveys.”

Also, “24 of the 40 Household Survey sites have been selected for program site visits and 21 of these site visits have been completed. Data collection is completed for the urban component of the study. The survey of lenders has also been completed.”

As far as the Native Hawaiian study goes, “As of January 2015, 483 surveys of Native Hawaiian households had been completed – roughly 97 percent of the 500 we are targeting.”

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