U.S. Sen. Tina Smith speaks to reporters following the weekly Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol April 17, 2018 in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Homes on tribal land lack heating at more than 100 times the national average, and plumbing is deficient at five times the national rate, according to testimony provided during a Senate subcommittee chaired by U.S. Sen. Tina Smith.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a housing crisis affecting Native Americans, leading to a hearing Thursday in Washington, D.C. that Smith called.
It was the first time Smith, who is now serving her first full six-year term in the Senate, chaired a committee: the Senate Housing, Transportation, and Community Development Subcommittee.
“I’m hopeful that today presents an opportunity for this committee to rededicate ourselves to meeting the moral and treaty obligations of our nation when it comes to ensuring that Native Americans have access to safe, affordable and stable housing,” Smith said.
The bipartisan hearing featured testimony from tribal leaders and experts, including from Minnesota. The two Minnesotans were Michael Goze, CEO of the Minneapolis-based American Indian Community Development Corporation and Alene Tchourumoff, who is senior vice president of Community Development and the Center for Indian Country Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
Minnesota has 11 tribal nations, and Native Americans in the state face acute housing shortages and are far more likely to experience homelessness.
Tchourumoff described challenges and obstacles for affordable housing, including banks charging higher rates on mortgages that mean Native Americans pay more for housing in the long run. Development on tribal lands is also hindered by poor infrastructure, Tchourumoff said. Poor access to water and transportation raises construction costs, she said.
Some of the testifiers called for the reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act (NAHASDA), which saw most of its programs expire in 2013.
NAHASDA is the main source of federal assistance for Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians to have access to safe and affordable housing.
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