Systemic challenges and financial barriers perpetuate a stigma of the housing needs of our tribal communities. Racial stereotypes related to welfare systems across our country hinder what is a basic human right for all people. The spur of COVID-19 brought overcrowding and homelessness to the forefront of our communities as a public health crisis.

Traditional tribal communities, often live in multi-generational households, taking in a relative in need, rather than that relative struggle alone. The 2017 Executive Summary of the HUD report titled “Housing Needs of American Indian and Alaskan Native in Tribal Areas” defines overcrowding as having more than one individual per bedroom, with the exception of married couples. The report also notes that homelessness in Indian Country does not necessarily refer to people sleeping on the streets, but rather to individuals who are staying with friends or relatives due to their lack of a permanent residence.

From 2011-2016 HUD was congressionally mandated to conduct what is now the largest study of American Indian and Alaskan Native housing policies and conditions. Many of those interviews and statistics are now almost over 10 years old, and in addition to overcrowding our tribes are still faced with the same housing conditions and needs today, including system deficiencies to their plumbing, heating, and electrical, as well as structural deficiencies foundations, walls, and roofs. Although these growing problems are addressed annually by our tribal communities, many tribes still lack the funding needed to resolve even the smallest of housing needs.

The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act is a federal law passed in 1996 to provide funding and support for affordable housing programs and initiatives in Native American communities across the United States.

The act aims to promote self-sufficiency and self-determination for tribes by giving them greater control over the management and administration of their housing programs, providing funding for a range of housing activities, with an overall goal of improving access to safe, decent, and affordable housing.

The funding provided under NAHASDA, Indian Housing Block Grant and Indian Community Development Block Grant, give limited amounts to address the ever-growing housing needs, with each community receiving formula funding based on their current assisted stock and need. That “need-based” calculation is determined by the 2015-2019 American Community Survey census data and single-race and multi-race Census data from 2010, which is another skewed statistical analysis of tribal population numbers with information that is between eight and 13 years old.

Tribal communities must learn how to leverage their resources, building their internal capacity to understand community housing development and its relationship to public health and economic development. Often left out of the equation are our tribal members who have moved off reservation lands, across the country to urban areas that aren’t included in our tribal service areas.

In May 2023, the FY2024 estimates for Indian Housing Block Grant formula amounts were published, with the four Louisiana tribes (Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana, Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, and Jena Band Choctaw Tribe of Louisiana) estimated to receive a total of $1,092,950, apportioned tribally based on their estimated census-based needs.

Excluding the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, which does not have a census-need calculation estimate. HUD’s calculations indicate there is a housing shortage of 803 homes between the other three tribal communities.

The average total development cost for a standard three-bedroom home for those communities is $371,103, which is the maximum amount of IHBG funds that can be spent to develop, acquire, or rehabilitate affordable housing. Taking those numbers alone, $1,092,950 divided by $371,103, the three communities would only be able to build 2.94 homes in FY2024. At that rate, it would take 273 years to build the 803 homes needed to meet the 2024 housing shortage need and doesn’t take into consideration the cost of the tribal staff and capacity needed to run the housing authorities and oversee grants management and construction.

Over the next few months, we will continue to explore the housing crisis of our tribal communities, providing a comparison to our Louisiana tribes, whose communities are part of the HUD Southern Plains Office of Native Programs region in Oklahoma City, receiving IHBG funding.

The severity of the tribal housing crisis needs to be at the forefront of public health and community development and be a focus in the same light as the minority housing needs in urban and rural areas.

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Brandi Liberty is an enrolled member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas & Nebraska and a descendant of the United Houma Nation in Southern Louisiana. She is the owner of The Luak Group and its subsidiary...