December 2, 2011

Home for Good

HUD American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month celebration. Photo courtesy NAIHC.

Today I attended the Tribal Nations Conference hosted by the Obama Administration, where one of the goals was to listen and help ensure Native American communities can build their communities and economies in response to their needs as they see fit. It followed a special event we held at HUD on Wednesday, when I got to meet with old friends during our annual American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month celebration.

These gatherings reminded me how far we’ve come in helping write a new chapter in Native American policy – rooted in inclusion, growth, and creative responses to the needs of tribal communities.

Shortly after becoming Secretary at HUD, I took a trip to Indian Country with my friend and colleague Secretary Arne Duncan at the Department of Education. While he toured schools in Montana, I toured homes in Native American communities. The drastic shortage of affordable housing for teachers that we learned of there led us to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and FEMA to provide 550 homes to 95 tribes across the country. It was a locally-driven solution to a local problem. Since that time, I’ve been fortunate to take a few more trips to Indian Country, including New Mexico, South Dakota, Alaska, and Native Hawaiian communities. Each time we are spurred to new action.

Despite the word “urban” in our name, HUD has a very real presence in Indian Country.  Over the past decade, the Indian Housing Block Grant program has built or acquired more than 25,000 affordable homes and rehabbed another 52,000 units. I’ve seen for myself the difference safe, stable housing can make for Native families. Too often, talented young Native Americans leave reservations or tribal lands not because they want to – but because of a lack of opportunity.

That is why we’ve made over a half-billion dollar investment in Native communities through the Native American Housing Block Grant Program.  And tribes have successfully drawn down 92 percent of their Recovery Act dollars. Those funds developed more than 3,000 affordable homes, rehabbed more than 44,000, and led to the “greening” of more than 30,000 homes in Indian Country. HUD’s Indian programs also support more than 6,000 jobs in areas where they are needed most. The funds also make possible youth efforts like the summer camps HUD’s Office of Native American Programs hosted with Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs across the nation to help teens develop leadership skills..

We’re building on this progress in the FY 2012 budget.  Even in a tough environment in which we faced a lot of difficult cuts, we actually received a small funding increase for the Native American Housing Block Grant.

My goal since that first trip to Montana remains the same: make HUD a better partner to tribal communities – a partner that engages in meaningful consultation and honors our government to government relationship. Together, we can provide the opportunities Native American families  need to not only grow up on Native lands, raise their children, and children’s’ children there.

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