PINE RIDGE, S.D. (AP) –South Dakota Indian tribes are getting $30 million and the mandate to use it creatively to improve housing, a Clinton Cabinet official said Thursday as he toured some of the poorest areas of the nation.
Andrew Cuomo, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, visited the Pine Ridge and Lower Brule Indian reservations to make the funding announcement.
Some of South Dakota’s Indian reservations are among the nation’s poorest counties.
Parts of the Pine Ridge reservation looked more like Third World countries than middle America. Some three-room houses had dozens of family members living inside. Some had no indoor plumbing.
One house Cuomo visited had a living room ceiling that drooped when it rained and a bathtub that leaked. Walls had graffiti and huge holes, and items were stacked in every corner.
During the trip, Cuomo detailed a “systematic change” in which the tribes, not the government, decide how to use housing money. The new rules encourage tribal members to own their own homes.
Carol Vitalis, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe in Pine Ridge, was skeptical but hopeful.
Ownership gives people more of a chance, she said. “It gives them a sense to own their own home and reason to fix it up and have a yard because it belongs to them. Not because it belongs to housing.”
“When you provided housing, etc., you inadvertently perverted the market economy and incentives and values that went with that economy,” Cuomo said.
Those values include the incentive to work harder and make more money and the value of real estate appreciation, he said. People are just fulfilling the system set up by free housing when they don’t take care of their homes, he said.
To undo the conditions, HUD and tribes from around the country developed the idea of asking Indians what they need instead of dictating to them. The result was the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, which gives tribal governments more leeway in how they use HUD money.
Since land on reservations is owned by tribes and can’t be taken back by lenders foreclosing on mortgages, reservation Indians have found it difficult to get financing for a house.