The new Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development is placing a priority on consultation with tribes on the Indian housing programs he administers.
Dr. Ben Carson says tribal sovereignty is “one of the reasons to make sure there is no ‘top down’ policy” at HUD. “We want things to be done in consultation.”
Carson, who is traveling to Indian country for the first time today, August 21 on a listening tour, also is suggesting that proposed cuts to federal Indian housing programs like the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) aren’t set in stone.
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Tribal housing money for fiscal 2018 “is a work in progress,” he says. “We don’t want to go backwards.”
He is also in favor of reauthorizing the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA), the landmark bill that created the IHBG program. NAHASDA reauthorization passed the House of Representatives in 2015 but has yet to be voted on in the Senate.
Carson is set to address the summer meeting of the United Native American Housing Association on August 21 in Polson, Montana. He will also speak with tribal housing officials and tour housing on the Montana reservation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes.
The Secretary has been traveling around the country listening to concerns about housing.
“Indian country is extremely important,” he says. “I want a very, very good understanding of what’s going on. We don’t want to do anything that’s detrimental.”
He says he is aware of the problems in Indian country such as poverty, drug use, and lack of adequate housing. “I want to hear from the people there firsthand.”
Carson’s goal for Indian country is “to grow affordable, comfortable, safe housing.” At the same time he feels it is important not to just develop housing, but to develop nurturing communities.
He says HUD is in the process of making beneficial organizational changes. “We’re looking for efficiency and effectiveness,” he says, which will create additional funding. He wants to eliminate duplicative processes and “stacks” of regulations. “Those things cost time and money,” he feels.
Carson wants HUD to “work across silos” with other federal departments active in Indian country, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and others. He says the Treasury Department’s New Markets Tax Credit program is one example of the possibilities that can benefit Indian housing.
In remarks prepared for delivery to the UNAHA meeting, Carson says the goal of HUD’s Office of Native American Programs “is to ensure that low-to-middle income Native American families enjoy the same healthy, affordable housing that HUD’s other programs provide across the nation, promoting economic growth and opportunities, while preserving tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”
Pointing to a HUD study identifying the need for 68,000 housing units on reservations, Carson says “It is clear that the first Americans are among the first we are called to serve,” according to his prepared remarks.
And, according to the prepared remarks, Carson was set to tell the meeting “the federal government must respect the self-government or sovereignty of tribal lands. Our assistance and cooperation must never be used as an underhanded way to control Native American communities.”
UNAHA is an association serving 30 tribes from the Great Plains region, including Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.