When it comes to Indian Housing Block Grants the federal government doesn’t know what the tribes will do with the money as it’s up to the tribes.

Tribes Decide How to Spend Indian Housing Block Grants; A Legacy of Sovereignty Act

Mark Fogarty

Many times when the federal government announces allocations of funds for American Indian projects, they include descriptions of what the money will be used for. But not with the Indian Housing Block Grants. For those, the government announces only the tribe and the amount of money.

That’s because the feds don’t know what the tribes will do with the money. It is up to the tribes to decide what to do with their IHBG funds.

And that’s because the IHBG program was authorized by a law which acknowledges tribal sovereignty beginning right with its title, the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act. NAHASDA, passed in 1996 and reauthorized a couple of times since (the current reauthorization finds itself, unsurprisingly, tied up in the continuing Congressional logjam), is a forward-looking and sovereignty-friendly act that abolished longstanding Department of Housing and Urban Development Indian housing programs like Mutual Help in favor of tribal control over their own housing destinies.

The Administration fiscal 2017 budget calls for an increase in IHBG money to $700 million. HUD has just now announced the allocation for fiscal 2016, $660 million to 587 tribes in 35 states.

What are the general guidelines for the money? “Eligible activities for the funds include housing development, assistance to housing developed under the Indian Housing Program of the 1937 Housing Act, housing services to eligible families and individuals, housing management services, crime prevention and safety, and model activities,” according to HUD.

The money is allocated to tribes based on a formula, and goes to their tribally-designated housing entities (TDHEs). The biggest allocation for 2016 is to the country’s largest tribe, the Navajo Nation. The Arizona-based Navajo will receive $86.4 million in IHBG money for fiscal 2016. Other large allocations go to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma ($30 million), Cook Inlet Regional Corp. of Anchorage, Alaska ($16 million) and $15.9 million to the Muscogee Creek Tribe of Oklahoma. These sizable awards can and do go towards sizable amounts of new and rehabbed housing.

On the other end of the scale, many of the smallest tribes received the smallest allocation of $50,282. There isn’t much housing you can build or rehab for that amount. But NAHASDA directed that, along with determining what to spend their housing money on, tribes should leverage that money to bring additional housing funds to the table from private or other public sources.

Take the Pueblo of Nambe in New Mexico. This smallish village tribe outside of Santa Fe was awarded $84,450 for FY 2016. But in the recent past it has leveraged outside money for housing from state, federal and private sources to build houses near the tribal bison range.

This long-term project (it is envisioned as happening over 10 years) has received infrastructure money from the state of New Mexico and plans to have private sector mortgages issued by banks using HUD’s section 184 Indian mortgage guarantee program.

Since the beginning of the program, tribes have used NAHASDA funds to build, buy, or rehab more than 100,000 homes, according to HUD.

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