April 21, 2010

Dorgan Introduces Legislation to Cut Red Tape, Spur Indian Housing

U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee,has introduced legislation that would eliminate the long delays that often hold up housing and community facility projects in Indian Country.
The lack of adequate housing is a significant problem on many Indian reservations, but current law which requires the Department of the Interior to approve every long-term lease for lands on which housing and community facilities projects would be built causes significant delays to these projects moving forward. Approval is required to ensure that the land, which is held in trust, is protected even if the house or other facility is subject to foreclosure.
For Indians obtaining Department of Interior approval can take as long as two years, a delay which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for potential Indian homeowners and tribes to obtain mortgages and other financing for the projects. This bill would eliminate that delay.
Dorgan’s legislation would streamline the Department of Interior’s approval process by empowering tribes to develop their own regulations for long term leases. Interior would still review and approve the tribes regulations, but once approved, the tribes could approve long term leases on their own, as long as the leases comply with the regulations they developed.
“One of the most urgent needs in Indian Country is adequate housing,” Dorgan said. “This legislation provides a way to eliminate needless delays in meeting that urgent need, while still protecting land held in trust.”
The benefits of this legislation are already available to the Navajo Nation which previously obtained legislation that allows the Nation to operate under a plan identical to the one Dorgan is proposing. Based on their success with it, Dorgan said it makes sense to extend that process to all tribes.
The bill is known as the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act of 2010. Joining Dorgan as original co-sponsors in offering the legislation are Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD), Tom Udall (D-NM) and John Tester (D-MT).
Contact: Barry Piatt