WASHINGTON – Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) held a hearing to examine the lack of safe, affordable, high-quality housing opportunities in Indian Country. The Committee heard from officials at federal agencies responsible for Indian housing, infrastructure, and community and economic development, and discussed strategies for leveraging resources and coordinating efforts to better meet the needs of Native communities.
Senator Johnson discussed the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ responsibility to manage American Indian trust lands. Johnson asked Jodi Gillette, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, how delays in approving leases have impacted housing construction and economic development. Johnson said he had heard “horror stories” regarding delays in approving leases.
Senator Johnson emphasized the importance of federal agencies consulting with tribes, and discussed the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s revised consultation process. In an exchange with HUD Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing Sandra Henriquez, Johnson noted that “meaningful tribal consultation is key” to ensuring that the department’s studies accurately reflect the true housing needs in Indian Country.
Other witnesses at the hearing included Doug O’Brien, Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Robert McSwain, Deputy Director for Management Operations for the Indian Health Service.
Last year, Johnson was named Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Senator Johnson is also a member of the Indian Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Committee. All three committees represent an important intersection for Indian housing issues.
More information, archived video, and witness testimony is available on the Banking Committee website, here.
Below is Chairman Johnson’s statement as prepared for delivery:
“Today, the Committee will continue examining an issue of great importance to me and so many in my home state of South Dakota—the lack of safe, affordable, high-quality housing opportunities in Indian Country. During my time in Congress, I have worked to improve the housing options available to American Indians, including being an original cosponsor of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) of 1996. Unfortunately, as those living in Native communities know all too well, the critical housing needs far outpace the resources devoted to the problem.
“The Census Bureau reported in 2008 that Native Americans are almost twice as likely to live in poverty as the rest of the population. For the same year, the GAO reported that nearly 46 percent of Native households were overcrowded, a rate that was almost three times as high as the rest of the country. According to the 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, American Indians make up less than one percent of the general population, but eight percent of the country’s homeless population. Together, we must work to reverse this trend.
“In 2010, I chaired a joint Banking and Indian Affairs Committee field hearing in Rapid City, South Dakota to examine creative solutions to the Indian housing crisis. Prior to the hearing, I brought HUD Secretary Donovan to the Rosebud Sioux Reservation so that he could see first-hand the immediate challenges facing Native communities. We heard from several witnesses who all echoed the need for housing funds. I support their calls for sufficient funding and will continue fighting for such funding as a member of the Appropriations Committee. But, it is also important that we collaborate and leverage existing resources to provide housing in these tough economic times. These resourceful ideas are not meant to free the federal government of its treaty and trust responsibility. Rather, these ideas should serve as another avenue for us to work together to address the housing crisis facing Indian Country.
“As Chairman of this Committee, I’m committed to ensuring that programs across many federal agencies that address Indian housing, infrastructure, and community development are easily accessible to tribes and their housing organizations. It’s also critically important that federal agencies engage in a government-to-government relationship and participate in meaningful consultation with tribes on housing issues and other important matters. That’s why I’ve invited all of you to testify today. Each of your agencies plays an important role in Indian housing or housing-related infrastructure and community development. I look forward to hearing from you about how your agencies collaborate to make sure your work provides the most efficient and effective housing assistance possible in Indian Country.
“Longer term, the Committee is beginning to lay the foundation for the reauthorization of NAHASDA next year. It will be important for all of us concerned about Indian housing to work closely on this reauthorization, including tribes and their housing agencies.”