May 23, 2008

Senate Passes Native American Housing Assistance & Self-Determination Act to Improve Housing in Indian Country

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) by unanimous consent. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) issued the following statement about NAHASDA, S. 2062.
Senator Reid said, “Yesterday, the U.S. Senate took another major step toward improving the lives of thousands of Native Americans. By passing the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, we have reauthorized a program that has a proven track record of helping tribes provide adequate housing for thousands of families. In 2006 alone, tribes added 1,600 rental housing units and over 6,000 homeownership units; each one of which became home to an American Indian or Alaska Native family. This is a program that provides financing guarantees so that tribes may receive private market loans to develop affordable housing in Indian Country. Not only has the Senate acted in a bipartisan way to reauthorize this primary housing program for Indian Country but we have made it more efficient by streamlining the program and allowing tribes great flexibility to address their particular housing needs.”
Senator Dorgan, Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said, “Housing conditions in many areas of Indian Country are deplorable, and I applaud the passage of this critical legislation. It is long overdue! Nearly 40 percent of Native Americans are living in housing that is sub-standard and in disrepair. This bill is a step toward meeting our trust responsibilities and making an investment in decent housing for our American Indian and Alaska Native families.”
Currently, approximately, 90,000 Indian families are homeless or under-housed. Also, over one-third of American Indian homes are overcrowded. To provide adequate housing in Indian Country, tribes need more than 230,000 housing units.
Summary of S. 2062: Legislation to Reauthorize NAHASDA
New Initiatives
Self-Determined Housing Activities: Creates a new housing program under NAHASDA which would allow grant recipients to use a portion of their funding for housing purposes. This new program would allow tribes to use funding in creative ways with reduced oversight from HUD.
Major Changes to Existing Programs
Study of Need Data: Directs the Secretary of HUD to contract with an organization with expertise in housing data collection to, in consultation with Indian tribes, study ways to truly quantify housing needs in Indian Country for funding purposes. Currently, U.S. Census data is used to determine a tribe’s service population, however many tribes believe that this is an inaccurate data set.
Appropriate Level of Monitoring of Compliance: Clarifies that HUD is only to conduct an appropriate level of on-site inspections and may not undertake inappropriate and costly inspections which has been a problem in some regions.
Expansion of Use of Funds: Expands the list of activities that grant funds may be used for without prior approval from HUD to include operation, maintenance and rehabilitation of rental and homeownership units, mold remediation, and necessary infrastructure.
Community Buildings: Expands a tribe’s authority to construct community buildings such as day-care centers, laundromats, and multi-purpose community centers. Tribes seek this ability in hopes of fostering a sustainable community and providing multi-purpose communal spaces.
Tribal Preference: Clarifies that a tribe may also follow tribal preference in contracting and hiring in addition to general Indian preference.
Streamlining of Reporting Requirements: Streamlines reporting requirements by eliminating duplicative reporting.
Clarification of Negotiated Rulemaking Requirements: Clarifies that HUD must institute negotiated rulemaking (within a time frame) whenever NAHASDA is amended or reauthorized.
Reserve Accounts & Carry-Over Provisions: Allows grant recipients to keep three month’s worth of administrative and operating expenses in a reserve account in case of emergencies and to carry over grant funds, that are not committed for use or expended, to subsequent fiscal years.
Expansion of Title VI Demonstration Project: Establishes a demonstration program which would allow grant recipients to use interest generated on Title VI loans for much needed infrastructure which is not allowed under current law.