Senate Committee Discusses Overcrowding in Tribal Areas

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a field hearing on August 25 to discuss “Overcrowded Housing and the Impacts on American Indian and Alaska Natives.” Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) represented the committee at the hearing, which was held in the Native Village of Savoonga, AK. Witnesses included a student, the president of the village, a HUD official, a school principal, the president of the Bering Straits Regional Housing Authority, and the manager of the local health clinic. Overcrowding is prevalent in tribal areas, with nearly 16% of American Indian and Alaska Native households living in overcrowded conditions, compared to 2.2% nationally.

In her opening remarks, Senator Murkowski noted that “overcrowding in Indian Country is often the expression of what is actually homelessness, with families taking in relatives or community members who otherwise could not find affordable housing options.” Local witnesses pointed out that homeless individuals could not survive the harsh weather conditions without shelter and described the impacts they saw in their community. Brianne Gologeren, Savoonga Health Clinic manager and community health practitioner, explained that overcrowding can lead to increased illness, domestic or sexual violence, depression, and stress-related ailments.

“When students and families have to navigate the hardships of overcrowded housing on a daily basis, their ability to succeed at school is greatly hindered,” stated Gaetano Brancaleone III, principal of Hogarth Kingeekuk Sr. Memorial School. President Delbert Pungowiyi urged Congress to increase funding, saying, “The state of overcrowding in our homes (is) felt in pervasive ways that impact the very will to live for every generation….”

Officials from HUD’s Alaska Office of Native American Programs (ONAP) office and the Bering Straits Regional Housing Authority discussed overcrowding in tribal areas more broadly. Both cited HUD’s 2017 Housing Needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Tribal Areas, which estimates that 68,000 housing units are needed in tribal areas to house the 42,000 to 85,000 Native Americans living with friends or relatives to avoid unsheltered homelessness. Christopher Kolerok encouraged increased funding for tribal housing programs like the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) program since appropriations have not kept pace with inflation over the past several decades.

Learn more about the hearing at: