Tribal housing act underfunded, Indians tell senators 7-07

WASHINGTON (AP) - Tribal leaders said July 19 that they need more money to help meet housing needs on reservations where thousands of American Indians live in substandard homes with no indoor plumbing or central heat.

Speaking to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee during a hearing on Indian housing, tribal leaders urged senators to renew the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, which has helped tribes get federal grants to build new homes.

Before the act, tribes were building an average of 2,000 homes a year. In the program's first year, tribes built 6,000, said Marty Shuravloff, chairman of the National American Indian Housing Council and a member of the Lesnoi Village on Kodiak Island, Alaska.

“Indian country needs NAHASDA reauthorized because it directly affects our health and welfare,” Shuravloff said.

But Indian leaders also said the program is drastically underfunded and asked senators to support increasing its budget.

David Brien, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in North Dakota, said the Bush administration's budget request for the program - about $627 million - is far less than the $1 billion tribes and national advocacy groups say is needed.

Funding also has been virtually flat for the last several years. That's “too low for its real promise to be realized,” said Aneva Yazzie, who heads the Navajo Housing Authority, which serves Navajos in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Tribes on rural reservations struggle to provide water, sewer service and electricity, meaning building costs are higher than in other communities. As costs have risen, tribes also have had to put more money into keeping up existing homes, leaving them less able to build new houses, Yazzie said.

As a result, housing shortages on reservations are severe.

Almost half of the homes on reservations are considered too small or substandard. About 90,000 Indian families are homeless or have inadequate housing, according to the National American Indian Housing Council, which estimates about 200,000 new homes are needed on reservations across the country.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he was sympathetic, and criticized the administration's budget request.

Dorgan pushed an official from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to answer whether he agrees that more money is needed for the program. Dorgan pointedly repeated his question when the official, Rodger Boyd, deputy assistant secretary for Native American Programs, answered that HUD was committed to trying to leverage funding from elsewhere to supplement the budget.

“These are third-world conditions,” Dorgan chided. “Do you not agree the need to adequately fund the program is also a critical need?”