Say What? Free Native Housing Isn’t Free?
It must be good to be Native American… Free food. Free healthcare. Free college education. Free housing. Plus, monthly checks from the government and tribal casinos. It’s about time I look into that Cherokee Princess Grandmother I’ve always heard about and get myself some of those benefits. All I have to do is get myself enrolled in a federally recognized tribe and I’ll have it made. I’ll get myself one of those free houses, move out of Mom’s basement, and spend the rest of my days as I see fit. Maybe I’ll paint my masterpiece. Yeah, I like the sound of that.
Oh, wait… Say what? You mean that isn’t true? I thought Native Americans got everything for free from the federal government because of the treaties. You mean to tell me that, according to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), one in four Native households spend a third or more of their household income on housing?
Not only do Native Americans pay for housing… their housing and living conditions are considered some of the worst in the United States. For example, NCAI reports that 40 percent of reservation housing is considered substandard and nearly one-third of reservation homes are overcrowded. On top of this, fewer than half of reservation homes connect to public sewer systems and 16 percent lack indoor plumbing.
The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 (NAHASDA) was passed to ensure tribes greater self-governance in providing HUD housing assistance to tribal members. Under NAHASDA, tribes have access to both the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) and the Title VI Loan Guarantee Program. The IHBG issues grant funding to tribes for affordable housing development and rehab, land acquisition and infrastructure for housing, as well as crime prevention and safety. The Title VI loans are a public investment tool offered to tribes that receive IHBG awards.
NAHASDA was reauthorized in 2002 and 2008 but expired in September 2013. An amended NAHASDA passed in the House of Representatives in March of 2015 but was referred by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and awaits approval.
Until the federal government reauthorizes NAHASDA, federally recognized tribes are losing out on important funding opportunities that could help address serious housing challenges on many reservations. NRC home repairs benefit Native American Elders living in unsafe conditions, yet there is much more to do. With the wait list for tribal housing assistance already upwards of three years, a lot is riding on NAHASDA funding.