HUD releases scientifically determined findings of ongoing housing needs in Indian Country

Travois has been following the progress of comprehensive housing needs assessment of American Indians and Alaskan Natives in tribal and urban areas since work began several years ago. (Read my blog from 2013 here.)

The intent of the HUD commissioned study — in collaboration with the University of Chicago — was to scientifically assess and understand the facts of housing conditions impacting families in Indian Country. The timing of its release is particularly important considering the new political era where “alternative facts” can distort the reality of the day.

The foreword of the study notes that the report draws two main conclusions based on a scientifically-derived process:

1. The housing problems of American Indians and Alaska Natives, particularly in reservations and other tribal areas, are extreme by any standard. Of American Indian and Alaska Native households living in tribal areas, 23 percent live in housing with a physical condition problem of some kind compared with 5 percent of all U.S. households.

To measure homelessness in tribal areas, this study took a novel approach and asked heads of households if an adult was living in the household who would be living in his or her own housing unit if he or she could. From that question, this study estimates that between 42,000 and 85,000 homeless Native Americans are living in tribal areas.

Unlike on-the-street homelessness, in tribal areas homelessness often translates into overcrowding. Of American Indian and Alaska Native households living in tribal areas, 16 percent experience overcrowding compared with 2 percent of all U.S. households.

2. Tribes have produced housing much more quickly under NAHASDA than they did in earlier periods — leveraging programs such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC) and the Affordable Housing Program (AHP) — despite the fact that the buying power of Indian Housing Block Grant funding has been substantially eroded by inflation since it was introduced in 1998.

Here are key findings from the “Housing Needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Tribal Areas” report:

  • Housing conditions vary by region but are substantially worse overall among American Indian and Alaska Native households in tribal areas than among all U.S. households, with overcrowding being especially severe.
  • Physical deficiencies in plumbing, kitchen, heating, electrical, and maintenance issues were found in 23 percent of households in tribal areas, compared to 5 percent of all U.S. households.
  • Overcrowding coupled with another physical condition problem was found in 34 percent of households in tribal areas, compared to 7 percent of all U.S. households.
  • The percentage of households with at least one “doubled-up” person staying in the household because they have nowhere else to go was 17 percent, estimated to be up to 84,700 people.

Here are key findings from the “Mortgage Lending on Tribal Land” report:

  • While Native Americans value homeownership as much as other Americans, mortgage lending is limited in Indian Country because reservation land is held in trust and cannot be used to secure a mortgage loan.
  • Since 1994, nearly half of mortgage loans originated on tribal lands were in Oklahoma (45 percent by number and 37 percent by dollar value). The entire state of Oklahoma is considered an ‘eligible area,’ has no tribal trust areas, there are several participating lenders in the state, and many Native Americans live in Oklahoma.

Here are key findings from the “Housing Needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Urban Areas” report:

  • Native Americans are becoming more urban but are still less likely to live in a city than other Americans. Even within urban areas, these households often live in census tracts within or near a village or reservation.
  • American Indian and Alaska Native households are more likely to occupy worse housing than the rest of the population and more likely to be overcrowded. 
  • American Indian or Alaska Native individuals leave their villages or reservations due to lack of opportunities, and some people cycle back and forth between their tribal home and a nearby primary city.
  • For Native Americans who struggle to transition from a village or reservation to an urban area, there are a specific set of challenges, including lack of familiarity with urban life and urban housing markets, lack of employment, limited social networks, insufficient rental or credit history, and race-based discrimination.

These factual conclusions should drive policy — including the reauthorization and increase of NAHASDA are more important than ever in the current political environment. For the complete study and important information on the process for its completion, visit:

Travois remains committed to advancing the housing needs of American Indian communities and will continue to work with our partners to use these facts to improve conditions for an underserved population.

Can you help? Read more here to get involved.

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