The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs held a hearing, “Addressing the Housing Crisis in Indian Country: Leveraging Resources and Coordinating Efforts,” on March 8.
Committee Chair Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) said in his opening remarks that American Indians are twice as likely to live in poverty as the American population as a whole, and while American Indians make up around 1.7% of the American population, they comprise about 8% of the people experiencing homelessness. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) was the only other Senator in attendance, and noted in his opening remarks that 90,000 native families are homeless or un-housed.
The two senators engaged in several rounds of questions with the panel. Senator Akaka said that the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant was not reauthorized during the latest reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA), although funds continue to be appropriated for the program. Senator Akaka asked Sandra Henriquez, Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing, HUD, whether the Department supports reauthorization of Native Hawaiian programs. Ms. Henriquez noted that the inclusion of these programs in its FY13 budget request demonstrates the Administration’s commitment to the program and said that HUD intends to work with the Committee to ensure that the housing needs of all people are met moving forward.
In response to a question from Senator Johnson, Ms. Henriquez also updated the Senators on the status of the pending housing needs study for tribal lands. The last assessment was conducted in 1996. While HUD engaged in outreach in 2010 and 2011, the study has been delayed due to concerns that tribes did not have a sufficient opportunity to review the assessment through a formal tribal consultation process. As such, HUD has “committed to hold additional tribal consultations on the survey instruments and study design in 2012 and begin the field survey work in 2013.”
Doug O’Brien of the Rural Housing Service, USDA, said in his written testimony that in the past 10 years USDA’s “Multi-Family Housing (MFH) Direct Loan program supported the construction of 67 properties and made nearly 1,200 rental units available to Tribal members. Housing Preservation Grants have helped repair or improve 1,412 American Indian and Alaska Native occupied housing units. Our MFH Guaranteed Loan program has supported the construction of 5 properties with 217 rental units available to Tribal members.”