The United States of America has a housing problem. Houses across the board are unaffordable. In some places, particularly on Native American tribal lands, homes are also in an unsurmountable state of disrepair. Much of the latter is attributed to a lapse in legality, namely in the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996.
This vital piece of legislation, which some see as the backbone for housing in Native American territories, lapsed back in 2013. Attempts to revive the bill have proved futile year after year. Newfound hope now emerges in that the fabled act passed the Senate in late July of 2023 with overwhelming bipartisan support.
As the legislative control turns in the direction of the House, it is unclear what the future of Native American housing might hold.
In Shambles: Native American Housing Lacks, Not Only in Supply but Also in Basic Safety Features
In an interview with AZ Central, Shiprock Chapter President Duane Yazzie described a sense of hopelessness when discussing the state of housing in tribal territories across Arizona, where a $12 million project consisting of nearly 100 houses was completely torn down.
The project was the work of the Navajo Housing Authority, which once worked under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA, for short) to address the regional housing shortage.
It is unclear why the homes were demolished rather than fixed, but one glaring issue with infrastructure is lack – lack of housing, lack of legislative support, and lack of basic safety features. Several investigations on Native American housing show that these structures regularly feature:
- Faulty wiring
- Hazardous building materials
- General maintenance issues
- Problems with heating and air conditioning
- Plumbing issues and more
In addition to the general unsafe nature of these structures, a limited supply of homes has many contending with a doubled-up lifestyle. This translates to rampant hidden homelessness.
Is this an issue the passing of NAHASDA could fix? Only time will tell for sure.
The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 2023: An Overview
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, NAHASDA is the “primary source” for housing funding assistance in communities comprised of Alaska Native, Native American, and Native Hawaiian families. Its failure to pass in previous years left funding stagnant for a full decade.
Supporters claim this is the closest they’ve come to victory thus far. If Congress passes the legislation, Native American housing programs could significantly improve, ushering in seven years of growth in the regional housing market and giving the reigns over these projects to Native American leaders through the Indian Housing Block Grant program.
The bill has been hailed as a cornerstone by some. Still, others claim that even in its 2023 format, the act is incomplete because it fails to recognize the Freedman of the Five Civilized Tribes who have long fought to have their heritage and citizenship established.
According to the Indianz website, these five groups, all hailing from the descendants of formerly enslaved African Americans, were promised Oklahoma citizenship in post-Civil War America, a clause many Democrats and Congressional Black Caucus members are holding as a prerequisite to the bill’s passing.
Like many aspects of housing in tribal lands and nationwide, political red tape and cultural nuance also play a role.
In an exclusive one-on-one interview with Invisible People, Area Manager of the Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness, Danielle Werder, spoke of the intricacies of Native American and Indigenous homelessness nationwide.
“What we’ve learned is that it is an individual process,” explained Werder. “You can’t look at a whole group of people who are unsheltered and say, what are we going to do with this group of people? Each individual has their own unique set of circumstances that led them there, and they’re going to have their own unique set of circumstances that will get them out of there.”
“And so that’s how I feel about the indigenous community. But it’s also a little different there,” Werder continued. “And it’s not just like one-to-one. There’s a cultural piece that we are missing. There’s a cultural piece of moving folks into housing in a neighborhood that they feel is closer to their community in a way that’s truly part of what their culture is and feels good for that next step.”
“We need to find a better way to engage with the entire community,” she concluded.
Urge Your Legislators to Support the Construction of Affordable Homes in Tribal Lands
NAHASDA is making the rounds right as we speak. The fate of this act, and others that prioritize the funding and construction of affordable homes, might seem like it is in the hands of politicians. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is actually in your hands.
Politicians will act in favor of what they feel is public interest, so be sure to let your voice be heard. Urge your legislators to support the construction of affordable homes in tribal lands and all across the country.