US announces $83 million in latest round of tribal housing grants
Emergency management officials at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota have a new building, but they’re operating out of an old jail that’s slated for demolition.
That’s because the new building near a small airport isn’t hooked up to water and sewer, said Lislie Mesteth, who leads the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s solid waste program. A new round of grants announced Tuesday by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development will make those connections and help emergency responders with their new digs.
“They never had enough money to fully build it, so we made small grants here and there,” Mesteth said.
The $3.4 million grant to the Oglala Sioux Tribe is part of a third round of “imminent threat funding” from HUD, using money from the American Rescue Plan Act. The latest infusion – $83 million – will benefit 74 tribes across the country and bring the total amount awarded so far to $209 million distributed among 191 tribes.
“Fortunately, these are historic funding levels in this particular program, and I know we are grateful for that, and I know the tribal communities are, too,” said HUD Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman. “That’s a good amount of money.”
At least another round of funding is coming with the remaining $71 million, she said.
The tribes eagerly awaited the money to cover cost overruns on existing projects and to start new ones. Tribal officials expected more grants to be released last year and texted, emailed and called each other regularly for updates.
The Native Village of St. Michael, Alaska is facing a housing shortage and wanted to make sure they could start building 26 tiny homes in good weather. The tribe learned on Tuesday that it would get more than $1 million for the project.
“This is one-time funding for the tribes,” said Hattie Keller, housing consultant for the tribe.
The tribe has already built gravel slabs for homes using $1 million in federal virus relief funding. The village has yet to secure additional subsidies for water, sewer and utility poles, Keller said. About 430 people live in the village which has less than 100 houses, she said. Tribal leaders plan to offer the new homes as rent-to-own.
Tribes in Arizona and New Mexico received grants in all three towers for housing, sanitation services, internet access and healthcare facilities, and to help struggling families pay housing and utility bills during the pandemic.
Elsewhere, the Northern Arapaho Tribal Housing Authority in Wyoming will use its $1 million grant to purchase a few mobile medical units to aid in its COVID-19 response. The Round Valley Indian Housing Authority in California will use $1.7 million to renovate homes and develop a food bank. And the Nansemond Indian Nation in Virginia will expand and renovate a community center with its nearly $1 million grant.
Todman acknowledges that the grants will not be enough to meet all the needs of Indian country. She said the budget proposals include increased funding.
HUD typically awards about $70 million annually through its Indian Community Development Block Grant program for competitive grants and $4 million for Imminent Threat Grants. About 200 tribes apply each year, but only about 80 are funded, HUD spokesman Michael Burns said.
All American Rescue Plan Act grant money has been designated as imminent threat, making it available on a first-come, first-served basis. HUD has shifted its approach from awarding grants under the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, to releasing as a single batch to distributing in series to give to certain tribes more time to apply.
HUD also increased the maximum amount that could be awarded through American Rescue Plan Act funding by 15% because it was a bigger prize pool and construction costs soared, said Burns. The agency first reviewed applications that were not funded under the CARES Act before taking new applications.
Tribes are required to report to HUD how the money is spent.
Pine Ridge Reservation emergency management officials were using the land outside their new building on Tuesday to make COVID kits. Much of their supplies are stored in shipping containers in the former prison that the US Bureau of Indian Affairs plans to demolish once they move, tribal officials said.
Oglala Sioux Emergency Manager Steve Wilson said tribal officials had worked in the concrete jail for several years, even though she was sentenced. He said the electrical system is outdated and the building is inefficient.
The tribe applied for a HUD grant for water and sewer in the new building in 2020, but did not receive it and was placed on a funding priority list under the American Rescue Plan Act, a- he declared. Construction on the new building began in 2019 but was delayed by flooding and the COVID response, Wilson said.
Finishing work remains to be done as well as work on the computer network.
“Hopefully in the summer we can move everything to this place,” Wilson said.
Mesteth also turned to HUD for funding to restore a well pump in the village of Pine Ridge, connect 30 homes to the water system, repair broken water lines in residents’ homes, and remove Dilapidated mobile homes that pose a health risk, she mentioned. HUD fully funded the applications.
“It’s really meaningful,” she said. “This imminent threat will be good, really good.”