Tribes have done a good job taking over housing self-determination from the federal government, according to a new study. But inflation has diminished the funds needed to be successful with housing sovereignty.
The study, “Housing Needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Tribal Areas,” done for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development by the Urban Institute, is the first major HUD study in a generation, since the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act was passed in 1996. (The Treasury Department, through its CDFI Fund unit, conducted one at the turn of the millennium.)
Under NAHASDA, which gave tribes much more housing sovereignty than previous HUD programs, the number of units constructed boomed, the study noted. Between 1998, when NAHASDA was first implemented, to 2006, tribes averaged 1,900 new and 2,700 rehabs built yearly. That increased to an average of 2,400 new and 4,100 rehabs built between 2007 and 2010.
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Tribes did an especially good job of committing extra housing money they received through the federal stimulus program, using up 99 percent of the extra funds they were allocated, the study said.
“ARRA (the stimulus program) provided $47.25 million for IHBG (Indian Housing Block Grants, authorized by NAHASDA) activities on top of the regular IHBG allocation, with the proviso that funds would be recaptured if they were not obligated within one year of the date they were made available and spent within three years. Tribes were able to spend virtually all (more than 99 percent) of these funds consistent with that requirement, yielding an additional 1,954 new construction units and 13,338 rehabilitated units between 2009 and 2012.”
But overall, federal funds have been insufficient for true housing sovereignty, the study concluded. “Since 1998, the first year that IHBG became operational, Congress has provided a consistent level of funding annually in nominal terms—an average of about $667 million per year from 1998 through 2014. During 17 years, however, inflation has seriously eroded that level. The 2014 amount ($637 million in nominal dollars) represented only $440 million in 1998 purchasing power.”
The study estimated 68,000 units of new housing were needed in Indian country to replace substandard or overcrowded units. Earlier estimates of total housing need including incremental new housing units have ranged from 200,000 to 250,000 units.
The study noted that Indian country has a high 68 percent homeownership rate, higher than the national average, and that 90 percent of renters want to be homeowners. A similar 90 percent is willing to contribute their own labor.
A HUD Indian mortgage guarantee program, the HUD 184, is roughly equivalent to NAHASDA in age. It has guaranteed 33,000 loans to Indians, totaling $5.4 billion as of March 31, 2016. However, only a minority of those loans have been on reservations.
The study said there are examples of leveraging (using existing money to attract more money) and innovative practices in Indian housing, but said these are “far from ubiquitous.” Also needed is stronger emphasis on twinning housing development and economic development.