Roughly 9.7 million people identify as American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN), either alone or in combination with one or more races, according to the most recent census report from 2020. This represents about 2.9% of the total U.S. population.
A number of programs have been created to serve the needs of this part of the American population. These programs are offered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), among others. Here’s a quick look at the government programs that offer housing assistance through these agencies.
- Native American and Alaska Native communities are among some of the smallest in the nation.
- The federal government provides a number of housing-related programs that serve the needs of these communities.
- The Housing Improvement Program provides financial grants to eligible Native Americans and Alaska Natives to buy, replace, repair, and renovate their homes.
- Other government agency programs provide grants, loans, and other resources to help American Indians and Alaska Natives whose incomes are below the federal poverty threshold secure decent, safe, and affordable housing.
- Despite these programs, past and ongoing discrimination against people of color continues to bolster the racial wealth gap in the United States.
The Housing Improvement Program
The Housing Improvement Program (HIP) provides grants to Native Americans and Alaska Natives that can be used to buy, replace, repair, or renovate a home. HIP aims to eliminate substandard housing and homelessness in Native American and Alaska Native communities by helping people obtain decent, safe, and sanitary housing.
The Snyder Act of 1921 established HIP as one of several BIA programs “authorized by Congress for the benefit of Indian people.” The BIA and federally recognized Indian tribes administer HIP, which serves “the neediest of the needy: AI/AN who have substandard housing or no housing at all and have no immediate source of housing assistance.”
What Does HIP Provide?
The HIP program provides four types of assistance:
- Interim improvements of up to $7,500 in housing repairs for conditions that threaten the health and safety of a home’s occupants.
- Repairs and renovation grants of up to $60,000 to improve the condition of a homeowner’s dwelling to meet local building code standards.
- Replacement housing provides a modest replacement home if an existing one can’t be brought up to building code standards for less than $60,000.
- New housing offers a modest new home to people who don’t own a home. You may be eligible if you own or lease land that’s suitable for housing and the lease is for at least 25 years.
Who Is Eligible for HIP?
You must be a member of a federally recognized American Indian tribe or an Alaska Native to qualify for HIP. Additionally, you must:
- Live in an approved tribal service area (a geographical area designated by a tribe and approved by the BIA) where HIP services can be delivered
- Have an income that doesn’t exceed 150% of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) poverty guidelines
- Have existing housing that is substandard
- Have no other resource for housing assistance
- Have not acquired your existing housing through a federally sponsored housing program that provides similar assistance
Indian Affairs distributes Housing Improvement Program funds based on the number of eligible applicants and their estimated cost of program services.
Other Federal Housing Programs
Several other federal programs provide housing assistance to Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee
This is a mortgage program that is managed by HUD. It helps eligible borrowers get into homes with low down payments and flexible underwriting.
Loans can be used to buy, build, renovate, or refinance a home, and are limited to single-family housing (one to four units) and fixed-rate financing for terms of up to 30 years. Financing in these cases comes with no prepayment penalties.
The maximum loan amount is 150% of the Federal Housing Administration‘s (FHA) lending limits for the area.
Indian Community Development Block Grant
The ICDBG program provides grants that are used to develop viable Native American and Alaska Native communities. This is executed through modest housing, proper living environments, and economic opportunities for individuals with low and moderate incomes.
The program’s funding can be used in a number of ways, including:
- Housing initiatives, such as renovation, land acquisition, and new housing construction
- Community facilities
- Economic growth and development
The program provides two categories of grants: single-purpose and “imminent threat” grants, which are used to eliminate or lessen problems that pose an immediate threat to public health or safety.
Alaska Native villages and Native American tribes, bands, groups, and nations with an established relationship with the Federal government are eligible for Indian Community Development Block Grants.
Indian Housing Block Grant
This is an annual grant from HUD that provides various affordable housing activities to eligible tribes, tribally designated housing entities, and a limited number of state-recognized tribes funded under the Indian Housing Program.
Individuals who are approved can use the funds for housing development, housing services, crime prevention, and safety as well as programs that provide creative solutions to affordable housing problems.
Native American Direct Loan
The NADL program is managed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Individuals who apply and are approved for these programs get loans to buy, build, and improve homes on federal trust land or they can refinance existing NADL loans to reduce interest rates.
The program is available to Native American veterans and non-Native American veterans married to a Native American. Participants must meet specific credit standards and live in the home they use the NADL to buy, build, or improve.
COVID-19 recovery programs
Funds made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act support several projects on tribal lands throughout the U.S. Among other initiatives, the money can be used to build new rental housing to address overcrowding and homelessness.
Housing Discrimination in Native American Communities
Homeownership and access to affordable rental housing are critical factors in building wealth and financial well-being. However, federal, state, and local policies, including government-sponsored redlining, reinforce housing discrimination.
In a series on structural racism in the U.S., the Center for American Progress states, “Whether through formal policy decisions or a persistent failure to enact and enforce civil rights laws, government action and inaction continues to undermine prosperity in communities of color.”
Today, Native American and Alaska Native populations endure some of the country’s highest levels of financial insecurity. According to the Center for American Progress:
- 22% of Native American and Alaska Native people live in poverty, according to the most recent data available from 2017, compared with just 8% of White Americans.
- Native American and Alaska Native people are less likely than their White counterparts to own their homes and more likely to be burdened by housing costs.
- The median value of Native American and Alaska Native–owned homes is $135,200, versus $219,600 for homes owned by White individuals.
- Native American and Alaska Native communities experience housing problems at a higher rate than the average U.S. population. 23% of Native American and Alaska Native communities report facilities/condition problems, and 16% report overcrowding. Only 5% and 2% of the total U.S. population reported the same problems, respectively.
- People of color are more likely than white people to report racial discrimination when trying to rent or buy housing. Seventeen percent of Native American and Alaska Native people reported discrimination, compared with just 5% of White people.
What Is HIP?
HIP stands for Housing Improvement Program, administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The program serves Native American and Alaska Native individuals and families who have no immediate resources for standard housing by providing grants to buy, build, renovate, or replace a home.
What Is a Tribal Service Area?
A Tribal service area is a geographical area that a Tribe designates, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs approves. These areas are where eligible Native American and Alaska Native people can receive Housing Improvement Program services.
What Are the HIP Income Guidelines?
There are separate HIP income guideline charts: one for the Lower 48 states, one for Alaska, and another for Hawaii. The charts establish the points you’ll get for the first Need Ranking Factor based on your annual household income. To qualify, your annual household income must not exceed 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL).
The Bottom Line
HIP and other government agency initiatives seek to improve housing opportunities for Native American and Alaska Native individuals and families. Despite these programs, past and ongoing discrimination against people of color still bolsters the racial wealth gap in the U.S.
A report from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity found that “(R)egardless of geographic location, poverty remains the singularly most challenging aspect of contemporary [Native American and Alaska Native] experience. There is considerable indicative information that Native Americans are disproportionately affected by monetary or economic poverty.”
If you are a Native American or Alaska Native and need help securing decent, safe, and sanitary housing, contact Indian Affairs or HUD to learn more about programs in your area.