Senator Tina Smith hosts first US Senate hearing on Indigenous housing disparities in nearly a decade


Lawmakers and witnesses discussed over the course of an hour and a half the barriers that prevent Native Americans from affording stable housing – such as the lack of affordable options, mortgages or generational wealth – as well as the challenges legal trust land and infrastructure inequalities.

Smith noted in his opening remarks that in Minnesota alone, 49% of Indigenous households own their own homes, compared to 76% of white households. Nationally, these figures are approximately 51% and 73% respectively.

“It’s up to us to show tribal nations that the federal government is living up to its commitments and play a role in reducing homelessness, providing housing assistance and reducing access disparities.” to the property, ”Smith said.

Part of the problem is the lack of affordability. In Minnesota, not only are Native Americans likely to live in disproportionately poor poverty, but Smith said their mortgage applications were turned down at higher rates than whites in Minnesota: In 2019, Minnesota lenders were turned down. refused nearly 25% of Native Americans who applied for mortgages, compared with just 6% of white applicants.

Dante Desiderio, CEO of the National Congress of American Indians and citizen of the Sappony tribe, said Thursday that Native Americans live in houses that are overcrowded at 8 times the national average. According to a 2017 report from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, it would take around 68,000 new and replacement constructions to eliminate overcrowding in the Indian country.

If it wasn’t clear until 2020, Desiderio said the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how acute the need for more housing is, with some indigenous communities hardest hit by COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations. and deaths per capita.

Homes on tribal lands are also much more likely to have significant structural defects, being 5 times more likely to have faulty plumbing and more than 100 times more likely to run out of heat than homes in the rest of the country.

Michael Goze, CEO of the American Indian Community Development Corporation in Minneapolis and a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, told the committee that investing in native housing will not just have an immediate impact – it’s an investment. in the health, educational and financial well-being of Indigenous peoples and communities across the board.

“Our homes can be life’s greatest financial asset, allowing families to continue to prosper, rather than just survive, in our current economic climate,” Goze said. “We can create an immediate impact on the lives of our youth, seniors and adults.”

And it is not only on reservations that Native Americans face housing disparities, but also for the urban Indian populations of the country.

In a telephone interview with Forum News Service following Thursday’s hearing, Smith said that Native Americans throughout history have been intentionally displaced in an attempt to strip their land and culture, and that such action by the federal government ” were not an accident ”.

“It was a racist policy,” she said. “What we need to do is replace this policy and its impact with anti-racist policies that really strengthen culture, increase access to wealth and access to economic opportunities. And I think you have to do it intentionally.

U.S. Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota serves as Republican leader on the housing subcommittee, and said Thursday this issue was one in which he and Democrats such as Smith could come to a bipartisan deal and “really make a difference in our home states ”.

With a willingness to work across party lines, Smith told Forum News Service she sees the opportunity to move forward quickly. She sees promise in proposals to expand the pilot projects that have been successful in the Dakota, as well as to re-authorize and expand the Native American Housing Assistance Self-Determination Act.

And with a major infrastructure package coming from the White House and Congress, and Smith said she sees a number of ways it could help.

“First, I see housing as infrastructure,” she said. “But second, tribal nations have big, big challenges with basic infrastructure like roads, water treatment, and clean drinking water. If we can tackle some of these challenges in the large infrastructure complex, I think it would make a huge difference. “

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