Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Native American housing: Obstacles and opportunities

by Amanda Gold, National Housing Conference

On March 24, 2015, HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research hosted a panel discussion and webcast entitled, “Native American Housing: Obstacles and Opportunities.” Despite improvements, Native Americans are still more likely to live in homes that are crowded, physically inadequate and unaffordable when compared to the nation as a whole. Many tribal communities lack developed housing and lending markets, leaving them dependent on federal funding to address housing needs. Roger Boyd, from the Office of Native American Programs (ONAP), kicked off the convening with an overview of the different Native American programs offered through HUD. The rest of the conversation focused on improving the demographic, socioeconomic and housing data available on Native Americans and the challenges of affordable housing in Alaska.

Native American housing programs: ONAP provides funding to 566 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. through a number of programs, including:
  • Indian Housing Block Grant: This grant provides annual funding to tribes according to a needs-based formula.
  •  Indian Community Development Block Grant: Part of the Community Development Block Grant program, this program leverages other federal agency funds with private sector funds on a 5-1 ratio to bring capital into the community.  
  • Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant 
  • Native Hawaiian Loan Guarantee
Data: Getting an accurate picture of housing challenges on tribal land
  • Accurate data on Native communities is an important mechanism for funding decisions and informed policymaking, yet there is a dearth of information on this subject.
  • The Urban Institute is undergoing a specialized data collection effort that focuses on national estimates of Native populations. The housing component will be the most comprehensive national housing survey of tribes to date. You can find the interim report here.
Building affordable housing in Alaska
  • Challenges 
    • Need: In some Native Alaskan communities, up to 50 percent of residents experience housing problems and overcrowding is twice as high as the national average.
    • Cost: Building new housing is expensive. Alaska has limited infrastructure, and housing and plumbing are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions.
  •  Innovations 
    • Building housing that fits: The Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA) has implemented housing strategies that are better suited for their environment, including the development of mixed use buildings which combine housing and small business incubators, and the prioritization energy efficient and low maintenance homes. 
    • Using housing to make systemic and local change: The strategic removal of blight in Alaska has revitalized neighborhoods. Following 10 years of involvement in one community, CIHA has seen educational improvements in the form of reading, writing and math scores. A credit union has replaced a pawn shop, and the community enjoys new street lights, benches and a new middle school.

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