NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

HUD and Indian Housing

March 22, 1997

Investigative reports printed in the Seattle Times prompted the Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue an internal report earlier this month on wholesale abuses of a $500 million program to build housing for members of Indian tribes.

The newspaper unearthed scores of cases of fraud and abuse of tribal housing funds -- usually by high-ranking tribal officials and their families.

  • In one case, two tribal housing officers for the Tulalip tribe, north of Seattle, built for themselves a 5,300-square-foot house valued at more than $400,000, paying only $214,000 for it.
  • The rest came from a $2.5 million HUD grant designed to help Indians who lack housing.
  • The two tribal housing officers got the subsidy despite an income of $92,000 -- five times that of the average tribal member the program was designed to help.
  • In other cases, housing directors in other tribes awarded no-bid contracts to friends or family members, or simply stole the money.

The scandals follow in the wake of a 1992 HUD policy change which gave more autonomy to tribes and their leaders.

  • Experts say one reason for the debacle is that federal policies dictate that tribal members cannot own land on reservations; it is deeded to the whole tribe -- which makes it impossible to use land as collateral for traditional bank loans.
  • Also, many homes built by the federal government for a Navajo tribe were left unoccupied because HUD refused to build them facing East -- an important symbol for the Navajo.

Source: "Hands in the Till," Economist, March 22, 1997.


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