At Hearing on Housing Challenges in Indian Country, Tester Presses BIA & HUD to Cut Burdensome Red Tape

Senator hears testimony from Ft. Belknap representative, pushes Bureau of Indian Affairs & Dept. of Housing and Urban Development to approve home loans after long delays

After hearing testimony from Fort Belknap Indian Community Councilman Nate Mount at a Senate hearing today on housing challenges in Indian Country, U.S. Senator Jon Tester pressed the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to cut burdensome red tape that has prevented Montana tribal members from obtaining home loans.

“The fact of the matter is that if you want to have a healthy community, you’ve got to have housing,” Tester said. “The folks who are in this room and have seen the situation in Indian Country know that housing is horrible. It’s just like inner city poverty—quite frankly—on many of the large, land-based tribes in this country, and Montana is no exception.”

Tester continued: “It impacts everything. It impacts getting businesses into Indian Country, it impacts getting teachers into Indian Country, it impacts law enforcement, and it just goes down the list. Everything has the foundational issue of housing and it needs attention in Indian Country.”

Tester specifically pressed BIA head Darryl LaCounte on the HEARTH Act, which allows federally recognized tribes to opt out of the Secretarial approval requirements for tribal leases and implement leasing regulations to specifically meet their own needs. Last month Fort Belknap became the first Montana tribe to submit a Residential Leasing Act for BIA review—but BIA has repeatedly put up barriers to the review, and the Tribe’s housing waitlist remains over 150 families long.

Tribal members living on trust lands face unique barriers to attaining homeownership, with approximately 90,000 Native families homeless or under-housed. Traditional mortgage lenders are often reluctant to issue mortgages to borrowers living on trust land because of the unique challenges and delays that can come with such mortgages.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Assessment of American Indian and Alaska Native Housing Needs released in January 2017 documented a need of 68,000 new units across Indian Country to address high rates of substandard homes and overcrowded conditions in tribal communities.

Tester is a longtime supporter of efforts to boost access to safe, affordable housing and increase homeownership in Indian Country. He introduced Tribal HUD-VASH this Congress, which provides rental assistance for homeless or at-risk Indian veterans and will improve case management services, provide housing for eligible homeless Indian veterans by mandating federal agencies to work cooperatively, and ensure program accountability through Congressional reporting.

He is also a co-sponsor of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) that reauthorizes the Indian Housing Block Grant and Title VI Loan Guarantee, which provides financing guarantees to tribes for private market loans to develop affordable housing.