|September 12, 2013
Sen. Cantwell and Sen. Tester visit SKHA housing projects
By Lailani Upham
The senators check out the newest edition of the SKHA transitional living two-bedroom living units. Sen. Tester jokingly blurts out, “I’ll take it!” According to SKHA officials the units are minimally furnished due to “transition” of occupants and the goal to help move them forward in permanent housing. (Lailani Upham photo)
PABLO — Senators Jon Tester and Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, and Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, made a visit to the Flathead Reservation last Thursday.
The visit for Sen. Cantwell came at the invitation from Sen. Tester to have the opportunity to see tribal housing on select Reservations in Montana, according Salish Kootenai Housing Authority Director Jason Adams.
A handful of SKHA officials hosted the tour tof the Felsman housing section and the SKHA Transitional Housing units – both located in Pablo.
Sen. Tester is one of fourteen members on the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, with eight Democrats and six Republicans.
Senator Maria Cantwell introduced a bipartisan bill on August 1, accompanied by 20 colleagues to boost investments in affordable housing developments and the construction jobs that they support nationwide.
The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) helps finance 90 percent of affordable housing projects in the United States.
Sen. Tester and Sen. Cantwell walk through the SKHA transitional living housing units as their last stop on the SKHA tour. (Lailani Upham photo)
The program was created in 1986, and has helped back more than 2.4 million affordable apartments nationwide, and has supported 95,000 jobs annually.
Adams says Sen. Cantwell is an advocate for the Tribes in regards to affordable housing.
According to a press release from Cantwell’s office, her legislation – the Improving the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Rate Act (S. 1442) – would improve the existing LIHTC program to provide greater certainty for new housing construction. The legislation would eliminate the floating rate used by the LIHTC program and make permanent a 9 percent minimum rate for new projects and 4 percent rate for acquiring existing housing. Currently, the LIHTC rate is linked to federal borrowing costs – which vary making the financing of affordable housing less predictable.
(L to R) Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Mary Pavel; U.S. Senator and Chairwoman for the Committee on Indian Affairs, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; and U.S. Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., tune in to SKHA Director Jason Adams as he shares information on SKHA housing efforts accomplished; and further needs of federal funding for tribal housing. (Lailani Upham photo)
S.1442 would end the floating credit rate. This uncertainty has been particularly challenging over the past few years as the federal cost of borrowing has declined, which in turn lowered the value of the credit, according to press release from Cantwell’s office last month. The statement goes on to say that the credit attracts investors, and without those investments, the project requires additional debt financing. However, projects cannot take on additional debt because of its fixed costs, which cannot be made up through increased apartment rental rates due to the low-income housing rent specifications.
“This bill supports a proven job creating program that means 95,000 jobs a year across the country,” said Cantwell. “The Low Income Housing Tax Credit is a win-win for our communities: It leverages private capital to invest in new jobs and new housing in our communities. This legislation will improve the tax credit for years to come.”
A small gathering of SKHA staff join the Senators and Jason Adams on the field of the Felsman housing neighborhood in Pablo last Thursday. (Lailani Upham photo)
Adams said the reason SKHA chose the Felsman community is to allow Sen. Cantwell to see the success of a project from the Low Income Housing Tax Credit investment.
In 1998, the Felsman housing units were the first project awarded to an Indian tribe in Montana, Adams said.
The Felsman addition was featured in the nation-wide report by Rapoza Associates, “The Low-Income Housing Tax-Credit: Overcoming Barriers to Affordable Housing in Rural America,” stating that the project earned the “HUD’s Best Practice Award” in 1999.”
The Felsman neighborhood has 23 units. Twenty of the units are from the Low Income Tax Credit Project and up for ownership on January 2014, according to Adams.
The idea behind Cantwell and Tester getting a glance of the transitional living quarters was to show the need in the Tribes, explained Adams.
Senators Cantwell and Tester met with SKHA staff and Tribal Council Members. (Lailani Upham photos)
The idea came in the late 1990’s to put a stop to homelessness on the Reservation Adams said. Back then, the Tribes had limited assistance for those in dire straits. Hotel stays were provided for a short stay. The stay did not do what the TLC program can do now.
Even with the assistance of the units, the need remains great on the Reservation Adams told the Senators.
“We keep it full. We don’t have the funding source to expand,” he added.
Adams told the senators currently there is a waiting list from all communities on the Reservation. He added it would be ideal to build another transitional living in Ronan and St. Ignatius.
Adams presented three positions for support to Tester and Cantwell: NAHASDA (Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act) funding for training and technical assistance; the need for a Congressional oversight hearing on USDA housing programs; and the NAHASDA funding formula.
According to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Congress first passed NAHASDA in 1996 and the Act was reauthorized in 2002 and 2008. The current authorization is set to expire in September of this year. The Act separated Indian Housing programs from public housing programs and was intended to further tribal self-governance, and streamline and simplify the process of providing housing assistance to Tribes and Tribal members.