Hundreds of tribal leaders, Indian housing staff and advocates attended the Amerind / National American Indian Housing Council conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, from May 8-11. Photo: NAIHC

NAIHC re-elects Sami Jo Difuntorum as chair during conference

Sami Jo Difuntorum is vowing to push for reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act after winning a second term as chairwoman of the National American Indian Housing Council.

Difuntorum, a member of the Shasta Nation of California, was re-elected to her post at the group's annual convention last week. She has been leading NAHASDA efforts since becoming chairwoman of NAIHC in 2014.

"NAIHC’s members rely on the critical resources NAHASDA provides to develop and manage affordable housing in their respective communities to meet the housing needs of their tribal members," the group said in a press release. "The NAIHC also delivers capacity building and technical assistance to tribes and tribal housing authorities throughout Indian Country."

NAHASDA expired in September 2013 and the House has voted twice to renew it, most recently by passing H.R.360 more than a year ago. But action has stalled in the other chamber.

Tribal leaders, Indian organizations and Democrats have pointed fingers at two Republican members of the Senate. Jackie Pata , the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, said one of them was Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ervin Chavez, the board president of the Navajo Housing Authority, told The Navajo Times that the other one was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a former candidate for president.

"I know you guys know how to throw a punch and now is the time to do it," Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin), a co-sponsor of H.R.360, told tribal leaders at NCAI's winter meeting in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.

Despite the push for NAHASDA, tribes are not in complete agreement on the right vehicle. Navajo Nation leaders have expressed support for S.710 because they say H.R.360 could penalize them for not using up all of their housing grants within a certain period of time.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved S.710 in April 2015 but it has not come up for consideration. According to tribal advocates, both Lee and Cruz have objected to the inclusion of Native Hawaiians in the bill even though Congress has legislated with respect to Native Hawaiians for decades.

"NCAI does not support cutting out existing Native Hawaiian programs in NAHASDA to get NAHASDA passed," Pata told tribal leaders earlier this year. "Giving into this divisiveness is not a principle NCAI was founded on."

NAIHC's conference was held in Honolulu, Hawaii, this year.

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