DR. BEN CARSON
SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
NATIONAL AMERICAN INDIAN HOUSING COUNCIL LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE
MARCH 6, 2018
As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.
I'm very glad to have this opportunity to speak with you today.
I'd particularly like to thank your Chairwoman, Sami Jo Difuntorum, your Executive Director Tony Walters, and your entire Board of Directors.
I should also recognize the talented and dedicated staff of the National American Indian Housing Council for organizing this great event.
And I want to thank the tribal leaders in attendance here today as well.
Your concern for the wellbeing of your tribes and nations, and your active role in coming together to serve them, stands as an inspiration for Americans of all backgrounds.
Last summer I was fortunate enough to attend a meeting of the United Native American Housing Association in Polson, Montana.
And just last month, I was honored to address the Winter Session of the National Congress of American Indians.
I'm aware that many of the same wonderful people from the National Congress gathering are here today, so if my speech sounds very similar, it just means that I haven't found a reason to change my mind about anything since then!
Something else that doesn't change is the core of HUD's mission, which is to ensure that all Americans have access to fair and affordable housing.
We serve families from New York to North Dakota, and from Florida to Alaska.
But we also have a special responsibility to those peoples who were here before all others, who govern themselves on their tribal lands, preserving their rich heritage and cultures.
That is the focus of our Office of Native American Programs, or ONAP, led by Deputy Assistant Secretary Heidi Frechette-she wishes she could be here today.
I had hoped to also introduce you to Hunter Kurtz, the nominee to be Assistant Secretary of Public and Indian Housing.
Hunter previously served at HUD in the Bush and Obama Administrations, and has been endorsed by The National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, and the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association.
He was voted out of Committee by a voice vote, which shows how broadly he is supported by those who have looked at his record.
I encourage the Senate to let us fully serve all Americans, including those on tribal lands, and confirm Mr. Kurtz as soon as possible.
The goal of ONAP is to ensure that Native American families enjoy the same healthy, affordable housing that HUD's other programs provide across the nation, promoting economic growth and opportunities, while preserving tribal sovereignty and self-determination.
Our greatest assistance in achieving these goals arises when a strong economy and efficient governance make it easier for families to achieve prosperity and self-sufficiency on their own.
By that measure, we have some good reasons to be optimistic about achieving our mission these days.
Nationally, unemployment is hovering around 4.1 percent, the lowest it's been in 17 years.
Millions of Americans are going to be able to keep more of their hard-earned money this year due to the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
More companies are giving out bonuses that can make all the difference for low-income families, as they're bringing factories and jobs back to our shores.
Along with the stock market, the whole economy is doing much better than previous years. This is good for our businesses, the people they employ, and the families who depend on those workers.
But our challenge-our moral duty-is to make sure that this prosperity reaches all Americans, including those in Indian country, and especially the poor and the vulnerable.
There are a lot of people who could use this help.
In a study released one year ago-the largest ever undertaken for the housing needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives-HUD found that 68,000 new affordable housing units are required to replace old and unsafe dwellings in their communities.
Problems with the physical condition and utilities of dwellings were found in 23 percent of American Indian and Alaska Natives households in tribal areas, compared to 5 percent of all U.S. households.
There is a 26 percent poverty rate among the American Indian and Alaska Native population, which jumps to 32 percent among those living in tribal areas.
These statistics do not point to a deficiency in people, but a deficiency in their opportunities.
It means that the First Americans are among the first we are called to serve.
In addition, there are still too many neighborhoods across our country-inside of tribal lands and out-which are caught in the terrible grip of addiction to opioids and other drugs.
As a doctor, few things break my heart more than to hear of families torn down and torn apart by substances which damage bodies and minds.
A few years ago, it was reported that over half of affordable housing units on a certain reservation were testing positive for meth use. For health reasons, they had to be stripped down and rebuilt at great expense.
The first thing I think of, in cases like this, is not the unfortunate drain on resources, or that we need to be more vigilant about drug use in affordable housing, although these are very important issues.
The first thing I think of is what has caused these individuals to seek such a lethal escape, and how we can lift them up, so that drugs are not a more tempting alternative to living their own lives.
It is not only a crisis of health. It is a crisis of hope.
That's why combating America's opioid epidemic is a major focus of the Trump Administration. In January, HHS announced an extension of the opioid public health emergency declaration.
Last week, I met once more with President Trump and my fellow Cabinet members to review and renew our efforts to tackle this tragic problem.
Of course, the solution must go beyond housing, and will mean building a strong, generous, and prosperous civil society.
It means working across federal agencies, with state and local authorities, tribal leaders, and public/private partnerships, to ensure that jobs are available to all who are able to work.
So that dignity and self-sufficiency can return to the areas most in need of them.
It means eliminating burdensome regulations and unreasonable limits on land use that keep tribes from prosperity and self-sufficiency, preventing them from developing their own property as they like.
We must follow the principle of subsidiarity: that the smallest unit of governance capable of managing its own affairs must be allowed to do so.
Tribal communities are already doing amazing work to meet their peoples' housing needs in ways that work for them.
HUD is making available $5.2 million in grant funding to Indian tribes and tribally designated housing entities (TDHEs) to house approximately 500 Native American veterans.
I want to congratulate the 26 Tribal HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing demonstration program grantees on their significant progress in serving veterans experiencing homelessness. This work is more important than ever.
As of March 2018, grantees have housed 257 veterans and their families, and dozens more are receiving VA case management services and will soon be housed.
The ongoing collaboration and engagement of the tribal grantees with HUD and the VA and the support of tribal leaders and their communities for this program is making it a success.
I support permanent authorization of the Tribal HUD-VASH program that would give the permanence participating communities need to make long-term investments to construct new housing.
That is why I have voiced support for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs' bill S.1333, introduced in this Congress, that would permanently authorize the Tribal HUD-VASH program.
We also remain focused on serving the youngest and most vulnerable in our communities.
The Tribal Environmental Action for Children's Health, or TEACH program, funded home-based assessments and modifications for children with asthma.
HUD Healthy Homes research found that the program significantly increased the proportion of children in control of their asthma, and reduced daytime and nighttime symptoms.
American Indian children in the program also saw a significant reduction in average number of school days missed, gaining back the equivalent of six school days during a school year.
This is yet another case that shows how health, housing, and education are connected for us all.
Our ONAP team is committed to documenting your successes and strategies that work in Indian Country-such as borrowing or leveraging techniques that make scarce dollars go farther, self-sufficiency and homeownership readiness programs, or facilities and wrap-around services for children and elders.
ONAP is undertaking an effort through its technical assistance program to enlist your housing practitioners and Executive Directors to tell your stories and to share those with the broader Indian Housing community
I am also happy to announce that HUD will be conducting consultation in the form of listening sessions, with the goal of soliciting input in the drafting of improved, proposed Regulations to govern the Indian Housing Loan Guarantee Program, also known as the Section 184 program.
I want to thank you again for your participation in these listening sessions, and all the good counsel you have given us in the past.
Because solving our nation's housing challenges-for Americans of any background-is not a top-down process.
It requires sourcing solutions from all levels of government, and communities of every size. It will require cooperation and goodwill from all parts of our society. And it can take inspiration from the cooperation and goodwill in this room today.
I look forward to taking on this challenge with you. Thank you.