Bill aims to improve rural housing

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. House in early December would reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) through 2024.

Sponsors included Representatives Don Young, R-AK; Denny Heck, D-WA; Deb Haaland, D-NM; Tom Cole, R-OK; Ben Ray Lugan, D-NM; Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI; and Gwen Moore, D-WI.

The housing programs that NAHASDA supports have a proven track record of success, although tremendous needs still exist in Native communities across the country, Young said.

The policy improvements in the new legislation are long overdue, he said. Authorization for most NAHASDA programs expired at the end of fiscal year 2013.

The new bill reflects years of work with tribes and Native organizations to develop and advance the best approach for reauthorizing the bill to combat some tragically inadequate housing conditions nationwide, he said.

Heck also hailed NAHASDA as one of the best tools Congress wields to respond to the housing crisis among Native Americans.  If Congress wants to get serious about fulfilling its federal trust responsibility in housing, that body needs to pass a bill reauthorizing these programs, he said.

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NAHASDA programs that would be reauthorized under this act include the Native American Housing Block Grant, the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant and loan guarantee programs.

The bill also includes provisions to improve the federal response to the housing crisis in Indian Country more generally, including the tribal HUD-VASH program and Native American Housing Block Grant Competitive Grant Program.

The HUD-VASH program combines the Department of Housing and Urban Development Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance for homeless veterans and their families with case management and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs at its medical centers and in the community. The Native American Housing Block Grant Competitive Grant Program provides eligible Indian tribes and tribally designated housing entities with grants to carry out a range of affordable housing activities.

Legislation sponsors said that those living in tribal areas are more likely to live in physically substandard or overcrowded housing than the U.S. population as a whole, and also more likely to live in poverty than the general population, further contributing to housing problems.