Part II – Housing crisis of tribal communities

Part I in this series introduced the housing needs of our tribal communities and the federal legislation and funding that regulates the housing programs developed by our communities.

Funding allocations are determined by census data and a tribe’s current assisted housing stock. But, the needs of a community far outweigh the annual allocation and the capacity for a tribe to alleviate the many contributors to what has become a public health crisis. 

Beyond overcrowding and homelessness, there are several other factors that must be weighed.

Urban and rural communities in the state of Louisiana report many similar factors to their housing needs, so the contributors are not new. But our tribal communities are often left out of the equation when seeking solutions. In addition, tribes in Louisiana all have unique cultural and traditional practices that may require specific housing considerations. Traditional architecture, communal spaces, larger homes for multigenerational families, and other cultural elements may be important for preserving cultural identity and community cohesion.

Limited financial resources and economic opportunities in the state’s rural tribal areas make it difficult for community members to find housing that is affordable and meets their needs. The housing shortage is prevalent both on and off reservation, with median rent for three of the four federally recognized tribal reservation areas being $490 a month where 49.3% of its population lives below the poverty level.

In addition, many of the houses in those areas are substandard including inadequate insulation, poor ventilation and structural deficiencies. These conditions can contribute to health issues and may require rehabilitation or replacement of housing units to bring them up to HUD standards. These projects require funding that isn’t readily available with the limited annual funding tribes receive, or a tribe must compete for housing funds through grants.

The infrastructure in some tribal communities may also be inadequate, including issues with water and sanitation systems, electrical infrastructure and road conditions. Those deficiencies can lead to significant health risks. Lack of clean water, proper sanitation facilities, and sewerage systems can result in the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Inadequate ventilation and insulation can contribute to mold growth, which can cause allergies and respiratory illnesses. Upgrading and improving infrastructure is crucial for ensuring safe and sustainable housing in these communities.

Finally, Louisiana is prone to natural disasters, especially hurricanes and flooding. Louisiana tribes, like many other communities in the Gulf Coast region, face significant risks from hurricanes. Flooding can damage homes, contaminate water sources, disrupt transportation, and pose health risks due to the potential spread of waterborne diseases.

 Louisiana’s coastline is already experiencing significant erosion because of a combination of natural and human factors. Hurricanes can cause further damage to fragile coastal ecosystems. This land loss can directly impact tribal communities by reducing their available land for housing, agriculture, and cultural activities.

In the event of a severe hurricane, tribes may need to evacuate their communities to ensure the safety of their members. Such displacement can lead to disruption of daily life, separation of families and loss of access to essential services. Returning after a hurricane may involve long-term recovery efforts, especially to housing that can incur considerable costs.

Ensuring that housing in these areas is resilient and can withstand natural disasters is crucial for the safety and well-being of tribal residents.

To address these housing needs, there needs to be collaboration between tribal governments, federal and state agencies and community organizations. Efforts can include securing funding for affordable housing initiatives, improving infrastructure through grants and partnerships, implementing disaster preparedness measures, and incorporating cultural considerations in housing development plans. Additionally, engaging tribal members in the decision-making process and empowering them to take an active role in addressing their housing needs is crucial for sustainable and community-driven solutions.

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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...