Indian housing funds face more scrutiny
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A senior Bush administration official warned tribal and Indian leaders on Monday that Indian housing funds are being watched "extremely closely" and could face cuts.

Michael Liu, the assistant secretary for public and Indian housing, noted a government-wide push to become more "results oriented." The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and members of Congress want the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to prove its programs are working, he said.

"To justify the levels of funding and hopefully to justify even more funding in the future, they have to have a better handle of what is being done and what has been done with the moneys that have gone out to the tribes and the nations and the villages," Liu said at the National American Indian Housing Council's annual Washington, D.C., summit.

Citing figures that are in dispute, Liu told conference attendees that about 45 percent of funds under a key Indian housing program have not been spent. According to the department's count, this amounts to nearly a billion dollars.

"For some of you, that just didn't compute. You are spending the dollars as soon as they come in," he said. "But the truth is, that is what our numbers show."

The disconnect has alarmed tribal housing officials, who say more than 200,000 new homes are needed to address chronic housing shortages in Indian Country and are lobbying for additional funds to build them. Unless the situation is addressed, they fear their pleas will fall on deaf ears -- a view confirmed by a Senate aide yesterday.

"Once the ball gets into an unfriendly venue, it's going to be awfully hard to reel that back," Paul Moorehead, staff director to the Republican side of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "The notion to our members that there is a billion dollars in Indian housing money unspent and yet there are groups . . . advocating for more money, there's something not right there."

The reason for the unobligated funds is not fully understood by HUD or by Indian Country. Rod Clarke, an official from the Klamath Tribes of Oregon, suggested that the government hasn't kept adequate records of housing projects that tribes have completed but still show up in the "pipeline."

"The last thing I would like to see is HUD and tribes pointing the finger at each other," he said.

Barb Baker, the director of the housing authority on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, also argued that HUD's reporting system isn't up to date. She urged Liu to enlist Indian Country to fix the problem.

"We believe that the people out in the trenches -- the ones who are actually sweating blood to do the reporting so that that this information is available -- are the ones that can provide you with the technical assistance to do that," she said.

Liu admitted that the department needs help. To account for certain public housing funds, he had to scrap HUD's existing computer program in favor of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. "Our system," he said, "frankly, failed us."

"I am hopeful that we can bridge this gap and get to the next level fairly quickly," he concluded.

Relevant Links:
NAHASDA, US Dept of Housing and Urban Development -
National Indian Housing Council -

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