BISMARCK — Overcrowding, meth and black mold were among the issues pushed forward as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro met with tribal leaders in Bismarck Tuesday to discuss housing challenges on reservations in the state.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., invited Castro to the Northern Plains Housing Summit at the Ramada Inn to hear from tribes about an overall lack of
U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, left, speaks with Willard Yellow Bird, right, and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), center, in Bismarck on Tuesday. Yellow Bird, a city of Fargo employee, told Sec. Castro not to forget urban Native American people and noted 33 percent of homeless people in the Fargo area are Native American.
housing as well as a need to test home environments for amphetamines.
“What I heard today is that we need to look at sometimes barriers that exist in our housing programs that make it difficult for tribes to take advantage of those programs,” Castro said to reporters after meeting with tribal leaders.
This was the second time Castro visited North Dakota, first visiting Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in 2014. Heitkamp invited Castro to visit North Dakota again last October to continue the discussion.
“We are in crisis in housing in Indian Country,” Heitkamp said. “We need to find new and better solutions.”
Chairman Dave Flute, of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe, said he sees families stacked in two-bedroom, one-bathroom homes. There are 13,000 members in his tribe, and about 7,000 people living on the reservation.
“We don’t have near the amount of homes we need. It’s such a large problem. It’s a complex problem,” said Flute, who noted every tribe faces different challenges when it comes to housing.
“We do share some commonality with the mold, the meth and the lack of housing,” he said.
On the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation, mold already has made its way into housing built about six years ago.
“Why is there mold in there already? Is it because of the materials we’re getting to build those homes? I don’t know,” said Flute, suggesting education of tribal members on how to take care of their homes also would be helpful.
“We need the technical assistance to educate and to teach not just the people that are going to live in those homes or rent those homes, but I also believe and would argue that our boards need that technical assistance, too,” he said.
Jody Ground, acting director of housing at Fort Berthold, said his tribe’s main concern is on funding for the upkeep of more than 730 units on the reservation, as well as for methamphetamine testing.
“We have no new projects for the next year because we’re just trying to maintain the stuff that we do have at this time,” Ground said.
About two years ago, tribal members developed a methamphetamine remediation program, in which unoccupied units were tested prior to renting them to ensure there’s no methamphetamine.
“If they do come back positive and there is methamphetamine in there, then we go in and remediate them to the recommended EPA standard,” Ground said.
But there’s no federal funding available to recoup the costs for methamphetamine testing, he said. The remediation program comes from the tribe’s own budget.
Ground said he’s talked with other tribes who have methamphetamine programs in effect, some for more than 10 years.
“Every time I’ve spoken to any of them the same thing comes up, we have no funding to recoup our costs as part of our remediation,” he said.
Methamphetamine use has become a nationwide problem, not just on reservations. Ground said he’s also concerned because there aren’t any long-term studies done on the effects of methamphetamine in a home.
“It’s such a new thing, and we’re having to deal with it now more reactive instead of proactive,” he said.
After meeting with tribal leaders, Castro said he also heard of difficulties tribes have with matching grants from HUD or other agencies.
“That matching component … is difficult for a tribe to come up with,” Castro said. “That’s the kind of very helpful information that we can take and look at.”
Other solutions include marrying job skills development in Indian Country with the need in housing, Heitkamp said.
“There’s no doubt that we have a huge need for housing. There’s no doubt that we have a huge need for development of job skills, and this is just a perfect place,” she said.
To do this, there needs to be funding, she said.
“We need to be creative. It’s not just all going to come from the federal government, we’ve got to look a public-private partnerships, and we know that there’s been places where this has worked very well,” Heitkamp said.
For example, a tribe in Omaha, Neb., started a project on a housing unit there in Detroit Lakes, she said.
“They’re developing skills there and they’re using that as a tribal corporation to basically build housing,” Heitkamp said.
The project is funded through repayment, including recruiting people to live and work on a reservation and pay a mortgage or rent.
Often workers who come to work at the reservation leave because they have no place to stay, she said.
“We’ve got to look at expanding opportunities,” Heitkamp said.