The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
May 8, 2017

Gaps in housing services, funding, and data challenge American Indians and Alaska Natives in metropolitan areas

May 9, 2017

From providing rental assistance to building new housing, American Indian tribes and Native Alaskan villages provide a variety of housing services to people who live on tribal land. Yet, for the American Indian and Alaska Natives (AIANs) who live in metropolitan areas, accessing these important housing services can be much more complex.

On tribal lands, people tend to be aware of the housing-related services available to them. They know where and how to apply for what they need and are comfortable interacting with staff, many of whom are AIANs. But 65 percent of people who identify AIAN as their only race live in metropolitan areas that are less likely to have services and service providers that target AIAN residents’ specific needs.

A lack of options

In metropolitan areas that have services for the AIAN community, some organizations that target or exclusively serve AIAN people actually offer referrals to mainstream providers rather than assisting people directly. Even among larger, well-established AIAN organizations that provide housing services, funding tends to be piecemeal and insufficient.

Although organizations that offer housing-related services targeting AIAN households living off tribal lands do receive funding from federal programs, including the Indian Housing Block Grant program (IHBG), HOME Investment Partnerships Program, and the Community Development Block Grant program, these funds come with regulations for how the money can be used. Because most federal funding rules prohibit the consideration of race as a factor in eligibility determinations, some funds cannot be used to limit services to AIANs.

Further complicating matters for AIANs in metropolitan areas is the fact that IHBG funds are distributed to tribes or tribally designated housing entities (TDHEs). Tribes and TDHEs can direct funds to service providers located off tribal land, but many do not. Those that do can restrict services funded with IHBG money to ensure they benefit only their own tribal members.

A lack of trust

Given the lack of options, the lack of trust AIAN community members have for mainstream providers is a daunting challenge.

Some AIAN families are afraid to go to homeless shelters out of fear that social services will take their children, a concern based on a history of forcible removal of AIAN children. In addition, people in several metropolitan areas said that AIANs have difficulty navigating service systems in urban areas because they are so different from the systems on tribal lands and because mainstream organizations conduct limited outreach to the AIAN community.

Additionally, when people need services, they don’t necessarily know where to go. And when they find the right place, they might run into problems proving they meet requirements for assistance. For example, those who earn money from making and selling crafts might have incomplete income records. Further, organizations can encounter difficulties when verifying income from gaming or other per capita payments that some households receive from their tribe.

Perhaps less tangible but no less important, the actual or presumed lack of cultural competence among non-AIAN staff at mainstream service agencies and organizations can be a barrier. Feeling uncomfortable during interactions with non-AIAN staff can dissuade people from seeking assistance for which they may qualify.

An incomplete picture

Providing housing-related services is difficult when our understanding of AIAN need and available resources is incomplete. There is no inventory of providers that serve the AIAN community in metropolitan areas to identify gaps in provision. No data on the funding sources that service providers can tap for housing purposes have been analyzed to identify underutilized sources. And there is no overall assessment of housing conditions and needs among AIANs in metropolitan areas to help target services and resources. Tackling AIAN housing challenges in metropolitan areas likely will remain difficult until additional light is brought to bear on these issues.

Members of American Indian Center hold a walk to mark their new American Indian Center home in Chicago, United States on May 6, 2017. The ceremony started from the old neighborhood near Chase Park to the new American Indian Center home. The walk included stops where speakers addressed the participants and ceremonies held. (Photo by Bilgin SASMAZ/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images).

SHARE THIS PAGE

As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.