By FRANK VAISVILAS
Green Bay Press-Gazette
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Red Cliff was the only Indigenous nation in Wisconsin to receive a share of a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2019, but the need for such special grants highlights the need for increased regular funding for housing in Indian Country, tribal officials say.
“There has been no increase for Indian housing for years,” said Cheryl Cloud, Red Cliff Chippewa Housing Authority director. “It hasn’t kept pace with inflation. That (funding) determines the amount of homes we can repair. It ultimately affects the quality of life for people.”
The National Congress of American Indians is calling for the Indian Housing Block Grant program by HUD to be increased to $932 million, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported.
“The IHBG would receive nearly $1 billion if funding had kept pace with inflation since its creation in 1996,” the organization said in a recent statement. “At current levels, tribal nations’ purchasing power with IHBG funds is less than it was 20 years ago.”
Funding for the program had remained stagnant at $620 million to $650 million for more than two decades.
“Housing infrastructure in Indian Country still lags behind the rest of the country,” read a statement from the NCAI. “Tribal governments are still struggling to reduce overcrowding and the long waitlist for housing.”
One of the homes purchased by Red Cliff Nation through a grant from HUD.
With increasing costs and no increase in funding, Cloud has had to do more with less over the years.
“As housing directors for tribal housing authorities, we have to be quite creative … in managing resources,” she said.
But Cloud is grateful for the $4.8 million special grant from HUD for some desperately needed housing on the Red Cliff Reservation that started becoming available for tribal members to live in this fall.
“We found ourselves extremely fortunate to be able to land this grant,” she said.
Of the 574 Indigenous nations in the U.S., only 52, including Red Cliff, were awarded a share of a $200 million special grant from HUD.
Red Cliff has used the money to purchase 10 new pre-manufactured homes, 12 new rental units and renovations to an apartment building. The homeownership units also come with $70,000 in equity as the site development cost.
The tribe has an average of 70 families on its waitlist for affordable housing in its service area in Bayfield County in far northern Wisconsin along the shore of Lake Superior.
“These projects will absolutely help reduce those (wait list) numbers,” Cloud said. “It’s kind of a rarity to get new housing stock (on a reservation).”
She said Red Cliff is essentially a suburb of Bayfield and the affordable housing units are placed in an existing mixed-income neighborhood.
“That particular model produces the stablest of neighborhoods,” Cloud said.
Studies have shown that mixed-income neighborhoods can have improved mental health benefits for low-income residents and increase tolerance for diversity.
Cloud said many of the people on the tribe’s waitlist for affordable housing are younger families, but more priority is given to elders, families with children and people with disabilities.
“The community has decided who has the higher need,” she said.
Cloud said tribal officials also have recently adjusted eligibility requirements to be assisted with affordable housing or transitional housing for homeless people, so a felony is not necessarily an automatic disqualifier anymore.
She added that the tribe also offers “wrap-around” services to better treat the whole person seeking affordable housing, such as with health and mental health needs and employment assistance.
Other affordable housing projects in the works on the reservation include cottage-style assisted living homes for elders and workforce housing near tribal businesses, such as the Legendary Waters Resort and Casino and the Red Cliff Fish Company.