Indigenous communities battle housing problems

Fighting indigenous housing problems
Posted at 11:18 AM, Nov 18, 2022

Tribal communities across the country struggle with the issue of affordable housing.

Recently, there has been a push for federal funding to help with more community development on tribal lands to preserve culture.

Native Americans have some of the worst housing needs in the country. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Indigenous communities face high poverty rates, low incomes, overcrowding, lack of plumbing and development issues.

According to the NLIHC, about one-third of Native households on tribal lands live in poverty compared to 18% nationwide. Nearly 16% of their households live in overcrowded conditions, and families are almost five times more likely to live in poor housing conditions, and some 70% of tribal governments identify infrastructure costs as a barrier to further development.

The battle for affordable housing has been at the center for Native Hawaiians.

"The number one issue for Hawaii right now is affordable housing,” said Hannemann, the president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association. “It’s an issue that we need to do more to try and get 28,000 Hawaiians off the waiting list and get them into homes. All this affects the livelihood of Native Hawaiians, which in turn, affects our economy.”

In 1920, Congress passed the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which set aside 200,000 acres of land across the islands for homesteading by native Hawaiians with 50% or more Hawaiian blood.

"In the last 30 years, an amendment allows for a successor to have a blood quantum of 25% or more to succeed,” said William J. Ailā, the director of the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. “There's a bill that passed the state senate and house; it's sitting before Congress waiting for consent of Congress, that would reduce the blood quantum to 1/32 for succession."

Four years ago, the Hawaii legislature took action to fix this 100-year-old problem, but the solution stalled on the federal level, leaving the lives of thousands of Native Hawaiians in limbo.

"My grandfather obtained the land for $2,000 and made a home here,” said Kukana Kama-Toth, who lives in Waimanalo. “I'm the current lease holder here. I am the only child. For me, I have five children. I only have one home. With blood quantum, my children can’t be on the Hawaiian homestead list; they don't make 50% blood quantum. Long story short, my children, for me, will only have this home.”

Right now, there are 28,000 Native Hawaiians on that homestead list waiting for more housing and development to have affordable housing.

"The department, which is often criticized for not moving wait listers onto the land, needs a significant source of sustainable funding in order to reduce the waitlist,” Ailā said.

A historic $600 million was approved for the Department of Hawaiian Homelands to develop more housing and infrastructure on the allocated lands for those on the waitlist.

"The most difficult part in developing is putting in the infrastructure,” Ailā said.

“The $600 million we have, a lot of it will go towards infrastructure because you need that to put up vertices. It is essential.”

While this is a huge step in the right direction for the Indigenous community, the fight isn't over.

Families hope to reform the blood quantum to pass down these homes to their children.