In Census 2020 (the most recent), 9.7 million people—about 2.9% of the total U.S. population—identified as an American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN), either alone or in combination with one or more other races. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and other government agencies serve the needs of AI/AN people through various programs. Here’s a quick look at government programs run by these agencies that offer housing assistance to Native American individuals and families.

Key Takeaways

  • The Housing Improvement Program (HIP) helps eligible Native Americans buy, replace, repair, and renovate their homes.
  • Other government agency programs provide grants, loans, and other resources to help lower-income Native Americans/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) secure decent, safe, and affordable housing.
  • Despite these programs, past and ongoing discrimination against people of color continues to fortify the racial wealth gap in the U.S.

What Is the Housing Improvement Program (HIP)?

The Housing Improvement Program (HIP) provides grant money to eligible AI/AN individuals and families to buy, replace, repair, and renovate their homes. The Snyder Act of 1921 established HIP as one of several BIA programs authorized by Congress to benefit Indian people.

The BIA and federally recognized Indian tribes administer HIP, which serves “the neediest of the needy: AI/AN who have substandard housing or no housing at all and have no immediate source of housing assistance.”

What Does HIP Provide?

The HIP program concentrates on five primary types of assistance:

  1. Minor Repairs (Category A)—This furnishes up to $7,500 in housing repairs for conditions that threaten the health and safety of a home’s occupants.
  2. Major Repairs and Renovations (Category B)—This allocates up to $60,000 to bring a structurally sound dwelling to a standard condition, meeting applicable building codes.
  3. Replacement Housing (Category C1)—This pays for a replacement house if an existing dwelling can’t be brought up to building code standards for less than $60,000.
  4. New Housing (Category C2)—This provides a new home to people who don’t own a home. You may be eligible if you own or lease (for 25 or more years when you receive assistance) land that’s suitable for housing. All HIP homes, whether replacement or new, must be “modest.”
  5. Down Payment Assistance (Category D)—Individuals and families who can’t afford the full cost of a home loan can get a one-time grant. The funding pays for up to 15% of the contract sales price or $20,000 ($75,000 in Alaska), whichever is less.

Who Is Eligible for HIP?

You must be a member of a federally recognized American Indian tribe or an Alaska Native to qualify for HIP. Additionally, you must:

  • Live in an approved tribal service area, which is a geographical area designated by a tribe and approved by the BIA, where HIP services can be delivered
  • Have an income that doesn’t exceed 150% of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) poverty guidelines
  • Have existing housing that is substandard
  • Have no other resource for housing assistance
  • Have not acquired your existing housing through a federally sponsored housing program that provides similar assistance

Once you receive Category B, C, or D services, you are not eligible for HIP assistance ever again.

Other Federal Housing Resources

Several other federal programs provide housing assistance to Native Americans.

Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program

This grant provides and operates safe and affordable rental housing for lower-income families through an authorized local Public Housing Agency (PHA).

Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program (Section 184)

This mortgage program is managed by HUD. It provides fixed-rate financing for loan terms up to 30 years, with no prepayment penalties. The max loan amount is 150% of Federal Housing Authority (FHA) lending limits for the area.

Indian Community Development Block Grant Program (ICDBG)

This program provides Indian tribes with direct grants to develop sustainable AI/AN communities, including decent housing, suitable living environments, and economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income people.

Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG)

The IHBG is an annual grant from HUD that provides a range of affordable housing activities for participating tribes and tribally designated housing entities (TDHEs). Eligible activities include housing development, housing services, crime prevention and safety, and programs that provide creative solutions to affordable housing problems. 

Direct Home Loans for Native Americans (NADL)

This program makes home loans to eligible Native American veterans who want to buy, build, or improve a home on Federal Trust land or to lower their interest rate. Veterans who aren’t Native Americans but are married to a non-veteran Native American may also be eligible.

COVID-19 Recovery Programs

Funds made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act support several projects on tribal lands throughout the U.S. Among other initiatives, the money can be used to build new rental housing to address overcrowding and homelessness.

Housing Discrimination in Native American Communities

Homeownership and access to affordable rental housing are critical factors in building wealth and financial well-being in the U.S. However, federal, state, and local policies—including government-sponsored redlining—have for decades reinforced housing discrimination.

In a series on structural racism in the U.S., the Center for American Progress states, “Whether through formal policy decisions or a persistent failure to enact and enforce civil rights laws, government action and inaction continues to undermine prosperity in communities of color.”

The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University advises that “the United States is an immigrant nation to all but one population: American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

Today, the AI/AN population endures some of the highest levels of financial insecurity in the country. According to the Center for American Progress:

  • In 2017 (the most recent data available), 22% of AI/AN people lived in poverty, compared with just 8% of White Americans.
  • AI/AN people are less likely than their White counterparts to own their homes and more likely to be burdened by housing costs.
  • The median value of AI/AN-owned homes is $135,200, versus $219,600 for homes owned by White people.
  • AI/AN communities experience housing problems at a higher rate than the average U.S. population. Twenty-three percent of AI/AN communities report facilities/condition problems, and 16% report overcrowding. Only 5% and 2%, respectively, of the total U.S. population reported the same problems.
  • People of color are more likely than White people to report racial discrimination when trying to rent or buy housing. Seventeen percent of AI/AN people reported discrimination, compared with just 5% of White people. 

Housing discrimination is illegal. If you think you've been discriminated against based on race, religion, sex, marital status, use of public assistance, national origin, disability, or age, there are steps you can take. One such step is to file a report to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) or with HUD.

The Bottom Line

HIP and other government agency initiatives seek to improve housing opportunities for AI/AN individuals and families. Despite these programs, past and ongoing discrimination against people of color still bolster the racial wealth gap in the U.S.

A report from the Kirwan Institute found that “regardless of geographic location, poverty remains the singularly most challenging aspect of contemporary AI/AN experience. There is considerable indicative information that Native Americans are disproportionately affected by monetary or economic poverty.”

If you are a Native American and need help securing decent, safe, and sanitary housing, contact the BIA or HUD to learn more about programs in your area.