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Politics
Indian housing funds face cuts in Bush budget


Indian Country is in need of at least 200,000 homes but tribes have seen their share of federal resources dry up under the Bush administration.

Despite pledging to increase home ownership rates for all Americans, President Bush has slashed housing funds for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The budget he laid out in February includes a $7.1 million cut for Indian housing programs, a $4.3 million cut for Indian home loans and a reduction of $21 million for other tribal loan guarantees.

The proposal has tribal leaders worried about their efforts to combat overcrowding, which is six times the national average, and inadequate housing conditions, including unsafe water and sewer systems. They say the funding levels aren't keeping up with inflation.

"The administration tells us about the sad state of infrastructure in Iraq because it has been ignored for so long, and uses that to justify increased foreign aid," Russell Sossamon, chairman of the National American Indian Housing Council, said in Senate testimony this February. "Tribes can identify with the conditions the Iraqi people live with and yet their need here at home continues to be ignored."

The largest portion of Indian housing funds comes from the Native American Housing Block Grant program. NAIHC says the program needs at least $1 billion per year. In fiscal year 2005, Bush is requesting $647 million, a cut of $7.1 million from the current level.

The program, operated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has come under scrutiny in recent years. HUD officials say their records show about $1 billion in unspent housing funds. Tribes dispute the department's figure and have launched their own initiative to get a more accurate picture.

And the White House Office of Management and Budget gave the program a "results not demonstrated" rating this year. The assessment cited problems with the program's purpose, management, planning and results.

Another key funding source is the Indian Community Development Block Grant program, a set-aside that Bush is proposing to eliminate altogether in 2005. Tribes say the program needs to be doubled to $150 million a year. The White House gave the overall Community Development Block Grant program an "ineffective" rating.

Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) supports increases for these programs. In a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that controls housing funds, he called on Congress to help provide "safe, clean, healthy and adequate housing" for Indian Country.

"Financing for housing is a cornerstone for all community development, and serves as an important economic stimulus for tribes," Daschle wrote on Monday. "Providing Native Americans with the funding levels necessary to make sound investments in their communities will pay off in quality housing, and in stronger, healthier communities."

In the meantime, tribal and Indian leaders are focusing on other ways to boost housing resources. In February, NAIHC launched an initiative to raise $10 million for the "Housing First for First Americans" campaign. Fannie Mae, a private company that provided $290 million in financing last year to help Indian families become homeowners, donated $1 million to kickstart the effort.

Composed of 19 separate initiatives, the campaign will help tribal housing staff expand their training, communications, research and assistance; promote homeownership and reputable lenders; fight predatory lending; develop partnerships; and establish national and regional Indian housing centers. A web site for Native homebuyers is also in the works.

According to government statistics, only 33 percent of Native Americans own homes, less than half the national rate and far lower than homeownership rates for other minority groups.

Get the Letter:
Daschle On Housing Funds (April 12, 2004)

Budget Documents:
Housing and Urban Development | OMB Ratings of HUD Programs

Relevant Links:
National American Indian Housing Council - http://naihc.net