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Notes from The Hill: HUD Nominee Confirmation Hearing

Carson Up to Speed on Key Native American Housing Act

Russell McIntyre    |    Housing Policy

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) distributes more than $700 million a year in housing assistance to the nation’s American Indian tribes and administers loan programs that have guaranteed more than $5 billion in mortgage money for Native Americans. The Secretary-designate of HUD demonstrated he has a working knowledge of this niche of the agency at his recent confirmation hearing.

In response to questions from Senators on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, Ben Carson advocated the reauthorization of a key Indian housing law, as well as streamlining the arcane mix of federal bureaucracy that often hampers Native American housing and mortgages.

In response to a question by Sen. Mike Rounds, R-SD, at his confirmation hearing Jan. 12, HUD secretary-designate Carson said “The Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act [NAHASDA} has been waiting to be re-upped after six years. I’m looking forward to the Senate reauthorizing that act in the very near future.”

NAHASDA is the vehicle that determines how approximately $650 million in yearly housing money is distributed to tribes, through a formula that some tribes, mainly smaller ones, say discriminates against them.

At the hearing Sen. Rounds said “There is a strong concern on the part of Native Americans in rural areas that the current formula in which funds are being distributed by HUD was not following that which had been recommended by some senior staff, and in fact was following an old guideline.

“Would you please consider that we find a fairer way to give these folks the resources they need so they get a chance at housing, as well?”

 “Thank you for advocating for them,” replied Carson. “This is a situation that has weighed heavily on my mind as I’ve learned more and more about it.”

Carson also advocated that tribes be involved in cutting bureaucratic delay from the housing process.

“The amount of red tape on the reservations right now is astonishing,” he said. “On tribal lands, if you want to build a house, you have to get permission from HUD, permission from the [Department of the] Interior, and if you want to put a driveway on it you have to get permission from the Department of Transportation. We need to bring back a little bit of common sense and have the people associated with those tribes involved in that decision making.”

Rounds also asked Carson to try to rectify the low number of reservation veterans getting mortgages through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He said the Minneapolis district approved just five such mortgages last year, and asked for more coordination between agencies like HUD and DVA, saying “the system is broken.”

Carson agreed to look into the situation.

In addition to the NAHASDA funds, HUD also administers an Indian set aside from the Community Development Block Grant program, which was funded for $60 million in fiscal 2016. And it has two housing-related loan programs, the HUD 184 and the NAHASDA Title VI loan programs. The HUD 184 has guaranteed more than $5 billion in mortgages to tribes, their housing entities and individual Indians, while Title VI has provided several hundred million dollars of loans for infrastructure and construction.

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