Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the National American Indian Housing Council 2010 Legislative Conference

Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Good morning and thank you. On behalf of the Obama Administration, I would like to thank Executive Director Mellor Willie and Chairman Marty Shurvaloff for inviting me to this year's legislative convention, as well as the leadership of the National American Indian Housing Council.

For three-and-a-half decades, this organization has dedicated itself to serving the nearly 5 million Native people around the country - from advocating for housing opportunities and increased funding and researching Native housing issues, to training those who manage Native housing and providing technical assistance for housing professionals.

I would also like to recognize HUD Assistant Secretary Sandi Henriquez and Deputy Assistant Secretary Rodger Boyd who are here with me today for their leadership of HUD's Native American programs.

A Commitment to Native Communities

It's an honor to join all of you today - to discuss the housing and development challenges faced by communities in Indian Country, what HUD and the Obama Administration is doing to help communities tackle those challenges, and how, going forward, we can be a better partner.

But first, full disclosure. Despite having spent the lion's share of my career producing and preserving affordable housing, when I came to HUD a year ago, the housing challenges of Indian Country were largely a mystery to me.

So early on in my tenure as Secretary, I set out to learn what those challenges were. Inspired by the words of a Native American proverb-"Listen or your tongue will keep you deaf"-I set out to gain a firsthand understanding of the state of Native American housing and how HUD's programs work on the ground.

Each of my trips opened my eyes to the challenges facing Indian country.

During my trip to Montana, I saw firsthand some of the most severe cases of families living in overcrowded and substandard housing conditions. The headdress and quilt I received from Leroy Spang, the president Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council, hang just outside my office as a reminder of those challenges every day.

But it was in Indian Country that I also saw the difference we could make. In Cook Inlet, Alaska, I witnessed just how one community that had fallen into decline, with the lowest incomes in all of Anchorage, the highest crime rates, and deteriorating homes could rise from the ashes with just a little help.

A Community Development Block Grant from HUD helped this community build a library, a recreation center and the Alaska Museum of Natural History.

And, with the help of a Neighborhood Stabilization grant, this same community was able to develop 18 units of affordable rental housing for low-income families.

In all, from an investment of $14 million, this community was able to leverage commitments from both public and private partners to the tune of $100 million. As a result, emergency calls to the neighborhood have been greatly reduced and its elementary schools have begun to improve.

The lesson from Alaska for me was clear:

By bringing federal and state agencies together with tribal organizations and private-sector stakeholders we can leverage the resources we need to create economic stability and opportunity.

I am proud to say that it was HUD's investment that sparked this community transformation.

I'm proud of what this agency's efforts means to tribal communities - how in 2009 the Indian Housing Block Grant program helped build or acquire more than 2,900 affordable homes, rehabilitating another 4,400 units.

I'm proud that the Section 184 program has guaranteed more than $1.4 billion in mortgages for more than 9,700 Indian families and with a foreclosure rate that has remained consistently below 1 percent.

I'm proud that the Indian Community Development Block Grant program has helped build community buildings in tribal communities across the country - from fire stations to day-care centers-and finance infrastructure projects such as extending electric service and improving water and road systems.

And I'm proud that the Title V loan guarantee program for affordable housing activities has financed the development or rehabilitation of more than 2,000 affordable housing units.

Perhaps most important of all is Rodger's team. For several years, ONAP has been working with tribes to increase their capacity and awareness of the importance of leveraged financing opportunities - from creating a new initiative to maximize Indian Housing Block Grant funds, to working with the IRS to make Low Income Housing Tax Credits more accessible in Indian County, to providing national training sessions on mixed and leveraged financing.

And I want to thank you, Rodger - for your service to tribal communities across the country.

Despite these efforts, I would be lying if I said historically we on the federal side have gotten it all right.

Quite the contrary. Despite the financial investment, federal Native American housing policy has failed to meet the needs of Native communities.

Now, let me be clear. The Obama Administration has the Obama administration has made an unprecedented financial commitment to Native American housing policy and - and Native American policy as a whole.

You can see that commitment reflected in the more than half billion dollars in Recovery Act funding invested in the Native American Housing Block Grant program to fund new construction, acquisition, rehabilitation, including energy efficiency and conservation, and infrastructure development activities.

You can also see it in the $700 million appropriated for NAHBG in fiscal year 2010, a $55 million increase and the highest mark that program has ever seen.

Understanding the Need

But despite these historic investments, the truth is no one fully understands the need in Indian Country as a whole - certainly not in the Federal government.

Here's what we do know. It's estimated that 40 percent of on-reservation housing is considered inadequate - as compared with roughly 6 percent nationwide.

We know that in Indian cultures, when housing is scarce, we don't see the rise in "homelessness" we often see in cities and suburbs throughout the country - instead, we see overcrowding.

Families living in cars, abandoned buildings and storage areas.

Extended families doubling, tripling and quadrupling-up in modest housing, rather than leave family members to fend for themselves.

Because of these unique needs, beginning in FY2011 and extending through the better part of FY2012, HUD will conduct a comprehensive needs study.

Several studies on housing needs in Indian Country have been conducted in the past. It was NAIHC that found in 2002 that overcrowding on Indian trust lands is six times what it is nationally - in Alaska Native villages eight times the rate.

But most of these studies were limited in their scope. The last comprehensive American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian studies were done in 1996. Then, HUD and the Urban Institute estimated that there was a need for more than 90,000 affordable housing units in Indian Country. Using 2000 census data, today we believe nearly 275,000 American Indian/Alaska Native households have "severe housing needs" - lacking basic plumbing or kitchen facilities, paying more than half of their income on housing alone, or doubling up.

The one thing all these studies agree on-the one thing we know-is that the Indian community is in critical need of better housing.

And so, in consultation and collaboration with tribal leadership as well as our federal and state partners, HUD is embarking on a comprehensive needs assessment - not just housing needs.

Through these partnerships, we will begin to develop a long term and long-overdue economic and community reinvestment strategy that looks not only at housing but other obstacles to building sustainable communities in Indian Country, including access to quality healthcare, schools, transportation and employment.

To prepare for the study, our Office of Native American Policy is holding a series of regional workshops this year. We are inviting a diverse group of tribal community members to participate, including tribal leaders, Native housing professionals, other federal agencies and the private sector. You will be hearing from us soon about the dates and locations.

This needs assessment is not simply some excuse to "check a box" every decade or so - but rather part of an ongoing process, something we can build off. One idea we are exploring is using NAHASDA annual reporting requirements to update the needs assessment each year - so that our programming is informed by the latest data and the clearest picture possible.

As HUD takes a step back to understand the need, it forced me to make of the hardest choices I have had to make since becoming Secretary - the decision to request reduce funding in FY2011 for the Native American Housing Block Grant program.

I recognize these cuts come at a very difficult time - and that simply restating our commitment to fiscal discipline is tough to swallow after so many years of disinvestment and disinterest. And particularly after last year's increases.

But last year, we injected cash quickly into existing programs largely because a second Great Depression was imminent.

Having now staved off such a catastrophic collapse, it's important that we recognize that the problem with Indian housing isn't just a lack of funding - it's also a lack of capacity, which I know NAIHC has worked tirelessly to build.

Indeed, we only need to look at the Recovery Act investments-where tribes receiving Formula and Competitive Funds have expended 38 and 20 percent of those funds respectively-to know that the capacity challenges in Indian Country are serious and longstanding, preventing federal dollars from reaching those who need the most help as we speak.

Tomorrow HUD will be having a critical follow-up conversation to the Learning thru Recovery meeting held at NAIHC's Legal Symposium in Las Vegas this past December. The meeting will be at the HUD building from 9-to-12 in the Brooke-Mondale Auditorium. I hope you can find time in your busy schedules to participate in this meeting.

If our goal is to put Native communities on sustainable footing, then we have to first understand what sustainability means in Indian Country, and that is where HUD is targeting its investment.

If I've learned one thing this year in my experience as HUD Secretary, it's that "sustainability" means different things to different communities.

For Indian Country, I've learned that building sustainable native communities requires sustainable native economies - institutions, human capital and legal frameworks that promote economic diversity and leverage sources of capital.

In that sense, housing is so important. You know as well as I that housing has a tremendous impact on the surrounding community - that when you choose a home, you don't just choose a home. You choose transportation to work and schools for your children.

You choose a community - and the choices available in that community.

For tribal communities, this is especially true. I don't have to tell you the extent to which tribal economies suffer when they lack sufficient or decent housing.

People move to border towns.

Money and resources leave the reservation.

And perhaps most devastating of all, the cultural integrity of the reservation suffers.

Indeed, the lack of housing choices in Indian Country has a direct connection to the lack of educational opportunity - in that it impacts teacher recruitment and retention.

That is why HUD is working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Education and FEMA to provide housing for teachers who work on reservations.

HUD estimates a shortage of at least 4,500 homes needed to meet the needs of teachers on Indian reservations. And working with Secretaries Salazar, Duncan and Napolitano, I'm committed to ensuring that we can provide the housing necessary to ensure children in tribal communities are getting the education they need to succeed in the 21st century.

Breaking Down Federal Silos

Indeed, building sustainable communities requires building partnerships, which is why HUD has spent the last year forging key interagency collaborations.

We've seen a decline in the percentage of people on reservations who apply for home loans over the past 5 years. This has happened for a variety of reasons - from delays in the Title Status Report process, to inconsistent processing regulations, to the lack of lenders' familiarity with closing requirements.

HUD has been conducting a series of training sessions to educate lenders on the closing process when dealing with restricted lands. And Sandi and Assistant Secretary EchoHawk have been working together to resolve the Title Status Report issue.

But we need to do more - HUD and BIA need to make this a priority. It may seem like a small technical issue. But streamlining the title process will have a direct impact on homeownership and housing construction on tribal lands.

It will lead to increased community development and an environment that is more conducive for lending on reservations.

Put simply, it is essential to our ability to promote more sustainable economic development on Indian lands.

Whether it is the Infrastructure Task Force, an interagency group working on basic infrastructure projects in Indian Country, or our work with the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency - to improve financial literacy, use housing as a platform to address health care and domestic violence, and weatherize homes to increase energy efficiency.

In all of these efforts, success won't be measured simply by about what HUD does - but whether we're able to work collaboratively to break down federal silos that for too long have prevented us from coordinating our investments to reach the families and communities that need the most help.

It will be measured by whether we are seen by tribes as a resource - a hub for tribes to teach one another on everything from property management to leveraging federal investments.

Put simply, it will be measured by whether we are seen as a barrier - or a partner.

A New Era of Partnership and Consultation:

That is why we've begun engaging with stakeholders on a variety of issues.

But we're committed to improving upon our consultation process with you as well, as expressed by the President's Executive Order.

HUD and tribal representatives will be participating in negotiated rulemaking on NAHASDA reauthorization in about two weeks.

In so doing, we want to build off of the success of the White House Tribal Nations Conference and the Government-to-Government Tribal Consultation Policy we are in the process of developing.

Together, we are committed to changing the way we do business - to building the strong, sustainable communities Indian Country needs to thrive and prosper.

I recognize that these are difficult times. And I recognize that fostering government-to-government relationships isn't easy after years of neglect.

But together, with a clearer understanding of what works, what doesn't, and what we need to do better for tribes, I believe we can make a difference.

We can build more sustainable reservation economies.

We ensure that all Native Americans have a decent, safe, affordable place to call home.

And perhaps most of all, we can remove barriers to opportunity for tribal communities across the country.

That is our goal today. And together, may we rise to meet it.


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