Regulatory inconsistencies hinder Native American housing programs

foil.seal.gaoA report released by the Government Accountability Office last week found regulatory inconsistencies in federal housing programs for Native Americans have made it difficult for native tribes and tribal housing entities to administer the Indiana Housing Block Grant program.

The program, which was established under the 1996 Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act and is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, aims to provide Indian tribes with affordable housing opportunities.

According to the report, differing agency requirements—in particular, environmental reviews—have contributed to project delays and increased costs. The report pointed to previous work by the GAO, which found in 2010 that 68 percent of grant recipients said a lack of interagency coordination or incompatible funding programs were a “hindrance to leveraging multiple programs.”

The report also identified a lack of infrastructure, such as running water and sewer systems, and recent changes in federally authorized training and technical assistance as challenges in administering the program.

“Many of the tribal housing officials we interviewed told us that tribes’ remote locations or lack of adequate infrastructure to support housing led to higher development costs,” the report said. “In addition to ongoing external challenges, several housing officials were concerned about changes in the delivery of training and technical assistance they received under the IHBG program.”

Congress set aside approximately $2 million to $3.5 million in funding for the National Indian Housing Council, which provided training and assistance for the program’s recipients, until 2012, when lawmakers directed HUD to provide grants on a competitive basis to national and regional organizations.

In 2012, HUD awarded NAIHC, along with seven other recipients, with training and technical assistance grants, but the council did not receive an award last year because it missed the deadline for consideration.

“Some housing officials told us that when NAIHC was the primary provider, they could request training and technical assistance directly…” the report said. “Under HUD’s new procedures, some housing officials told us that waiting for regional… staff to schedule training could delay training.”

The GAO recommended that federal agencies collaborate in developing a coordinated review process to minimize overlapping reviews and cut costs. The report also recommended HUD share housing approaches among tribes, among other changes.

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