Pandemic relief will help build affordable housing on reserve


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A federal program to fund affordable housing on tribal reserves has not kept pace with inflation since its inception in 1996.

But hundreds of millions of dollars in pandemic relief money recently passed by Congress gives tribal housing authorities the chance to build new homes for the first time in years.

Tyrone Burke rolls his wheelchair up a ramp to the door of his unit at the Salish and Kootenai Tribal Housing Authority transitional living center.

“Like I said, for a family reunion, that wouldn’t be very ideal. But it’s a space for me and my kids, ”he says.

It’s the size of a studio. There is a small kitchen area and a roll-in shower, which Burke needs after losing a leg due to complications from diabetes.

He shares a bunk bed with his 10 year old son. Her 11 year old daughter has a bed to herself.

Burke, a registered member of the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes, hopes this is only a temporary home.

He has five other older children who live alone, some nearby. Burke would like to have a place for them to stay and visit. The 54-year-old man is unemployed and receives disability benefits.

He is looking for an affordable three bedroom house through the Tribal Housing Authority to reunite his family.

“If you have a home, you can create your own memories and connections with your own grandchildren, nieces and nephews. “

Burke is not alone in seeking affordable housing. He is one of some 200 people on a waiting list for one of the affordable housing units at the CSKT.

In 2017, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development released a Housing Needs Assessment for Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Hawaiians. He revealed that 68,000 new housing units on reserves across the country are needed to eliminate overcrowding and replace inadequate units.

Sarah Saadian is Vice President of Public Policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition. She says it is difficult to get precise figures on housing needs in tribal areas because registration methods are unreliable in rural areas.

“But based on the numbers that do exist, we see very consistently that Native Americans have some of the worst housing needs in the United States.”

Since the late 1990s, the affordable housing efforts of more than 570 Native American and Native Alaskan tribes and villages have been supported by the Indian Housing Block Grant. The program was established by the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, or NAHASDA. The block grant is intended to pay the Housing Authority to advise people who buy a home, provide rental assistance and low-income student housing, and build and maintain affordable housing.

Jody Perez of the Salish and Kootenai Housing Authority says the flow of money is not enough.

“Our prize pool is not increasing. It just shrinks. And there’s no inflation for that, so it’s literally going down every year.

As Executive Director, Perez helps manage 498 affordable housing units on the reserve. She says that over the past 25 years, the housing authority has built 52 affordable units on reserve with block grant money.

Federal housing officials said inflation reduced the impact of the block grant by about $ 650 million. Tribal housing officials say it is no longer enough money to build the number of new houses needed.

In written testimony to a U.S. Senate committee, the National Congress of American Indian recently asked Congress to increase block grant funding to at least $ 1 billion to help address the ongoing housing crisis. in Indian country.

Congress has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to Montana’s eight reserves through the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act to build affordable housing. President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan also includes a boost to the Block Grant and Native American housing programs, though the future of that policy is uncertain.

Perez, a registered member of the Confederate Salish and Kootenai tribes, hopes to build almost as many homes as the housing authority has built in the past two and a half decades over the next year or so with federal case relief money. pandemic.

“I didn’t count, but I would bet that at least 50 families or individuals will be housed with this money,” Perez says.

She describes money as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

“I can’t really believe Congress is allocating so much money because we’ve never had it before.”

She hopes the money will help people like Burke who are waiting for housing news.

He tried to do it on his own.

“For the three bedrooms I was looking at, it was well over 15, 16 cents a month,” Burke says. “I struggled to find a place.

As the holidays approach, he wants a bigger house to entertain his family, just like his mother did when he was growing up.

“You know, and that’s where you build your memories and your connections, through your family and stuff, it’s her home.”

Memories Burke hopes that he can provide for his own children.

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