H.R. 797, the Native American Housing Enhancement Act of 2005
Floor Statement By: Senator Mike Enzi
Nov. 9, 2005
Today, I rise in support of H.R. 797, the Native American Housing Enhancement Act of 2005. This bill is identical to a bill Senator Johnson and I introduced in February, S. 475, that will encourage home ownership and enhance housing opportunities for Native Americans across the country. H.R. 797 is an important piece of legislation and I commend my Senate colleague, Senator Tim Johnson from South Dakota, and my colleague on the House side, Congressman Rick Renzi from Arizona, for their continued leadership on Indian housing issues.
Home ownership is a fundamental building block of a successful community. Simply put, ownership promotes pride and pride promotes improvement. And, when it comes to Native American housing, we have a lot of improving to do. Currently, Native Americans experience some of the worst housing conditions in the country. About 90,000 Indian families are homeless or underhoused. Nearly 33 percent of Indian homes are overcrowded, while 33 percent lack adequate solid waste management systems and 8 percent lack a safe indoor water supply.
Poor housing conditions on our reservations are a symptom of laws and regulations that fail to promote a sense of ownership and personal responsibility within our tribes. Although the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 made great strides in developing an ownership society in Indian Country, we still have a lot of work to do. This legislation is a step in the right direction. Our bill would give tribes more flexibility when developing housing improvement projects, and will also give tribal housing entities the opportunity to once again take advantage of a program designed to teach kids the value of hard work and community involvement.
The Youthbuild program is a vocational program designed to give low-income kids and highschool drop-outs between the ages of 16 and 24 the skills they need to survive in today’s world. Youthbuild participants gain critical job skills and leadership training by constructing and rehabilitating affordable housing units in their communities. The new housing units are owned and managed by community housing authorities and then permanently designated for low-income families who need the most help finding a place to live. The program is an excellent tool for achieving two goals. The first goal is to provide vocational education and life-long learning skills for kids who live in some of the most economically-depressed areas of the country. These kids need skills in order to build a workforce that can support economic development on our reservations. The second goal is to build affordable housing units so tribal families can find homes with running water, adequate sewage systems, and heat and electricity.
However, as I mentioned before, tribal housing entities and tribal youth programs were barred from the Youthbuild program when the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 (NAHASDA) was enacted. Accessibility was eliminated because NAHASDA gave the tribes the authority to encompass this type of activity under their respective Indian Housing Plans. Unfortunately, when tribes are prioritizing their housing projects, many choose to fix crumbling foundations, dry-rot and sanitation systems before they invest in Youthbuild-type programs. H.R. 797 will provide an alternative resource for this type of activity. Further, it will help children in Tribal communities feel a sense of accomplishment when they see their friends and neighbors move into new homes they help built. And, that builds pride.
The bill will also clarify that tribes and tribal entities can access certain grant income and retain program money for successive grant years if used for affordable housing activities. This provision will ultimately provide tribes and tribal entities with more flexibility in planning and improve their ability to use their funds efficiently.
H.R. 797 also amends the Housing Act of 1949 to provide consistency across tribal housing programs by treating tribes applying for housing programs within the Department of Agriculture (USDA) the same as tribes applying for housing programs within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The bill will allow tribes to comply with Title II of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 rather than Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when securing federal funds for USDA housing programs.
Under Title VI of the Civil Right Act of 1964, tribes are unable to access certain federal funds if Indian preference is a factor in using those funds. Tribes must comply with the Civil Rights Act unless Congress explicitly exempts them under an authorizing statute. Unfortunately, most Native American housing programs are tailored to benefit tribal members, which puts these programs at odds with the 1964 Act.
When Congress passed the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) in 1996, we exempted Tribes from the 1964 Civil Rights Act for housing programs administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, provided they comply with the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968. H.R. 797 would provide a similar exemption for tribes with respect to housing projects under the Department of Agriculture. In short, it brings USDA housing programs in line with HUD housing programs.
This is a good bill that will provide real and tangible benefits in Indian country. Building a community is about building pride in our kids, our neighbors and ourselves. H.R. 797 and S. 475 recognize that pride comes from working together, learning new and improved skills, earning livable wages, and owning a home, among other things.