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Statistics point to North Dakota tribal housing crisis, summit seeks solutions

BISMARCK -- More than 40 percent of Native Americans on North Dakota reservations live in poverty, a rate at least 9 percent higher than tribal areas nationwide, show new statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

BISMARCK - More than 40 percent of Native Americans on North Dakota reservations live in poverty, a rate at least 9 percent higher than tribal areas nationwide, show new statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

At least 14 percent of tribal members living on North Dakota reservations live in overcrowded conditions or lack a kitchen or plumbing, according to figures compiled using American Community Survey data.

The numbers aren't surprising to Turtle Mountain Tribal Chairman Richard McCloud, who spent many years delivering mail to homes on the reservation that were in poor condition. Some homes lacked running water and many housed two or more families, he said.

"I've seen as many as 20 people in one dwelling, in a two-bedroom house," McCloud said. "To me, that's a crisis."

To brainstorm ways to address the severe housing needs in tribal areas, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro will be in North Dakota today to participate in the first Great Plains regional Indian housing conference.


Castro toured North Dakota's Turtle Mountain reservation and South Dakota's Pine Ridge reservation in 2014. In an interview with Forum News Service, Castro called those visits "probably the most poignant visits I've had as HUD secretary because of the severe need that exists."

During the summit, Castro said he hopes to get input from tribal leaders about how HUD can improve housing opportunities in Indian Country.

"Improving the quality of life of tribal communities is a priority for President Obama," Castro said. "I'm looking forward to getting back to North Dakota to talk about the severe need to make investments in housing opportunities."

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who invited Castro to North Dakota, is urging HUD to consider creative solutions such as public-private partnerships to address the housing needs.

"If we simply do what we've always been doing, we're going to fall further and further behind," said Heitkamp, who will be the keynote speaker during the event.

The lack of adequate housing has many impacts on the quality of life in Indian Country, including the success of children in school. McCloud said some kids have reported to teachers that they're tired at school because they only have a blanket and pillow at home or they had to sleep in a closet or bathtub due to overcrowding.

"If we're serious about improving conditions for kids, if we're serious about better outcomes, that's got to start at home with better housing," Heitkamp said.

At the Fort Berthold reservation, in the heart of North Dakota's Oil Patch, the housing needs are similar but the cost to maintain housing units is at a record high, said Jody Ground, acting executive director of housing at Fort Berthold.


"The rates are still up there. They've kind of stabilized but still they're still high," Ground said. "We always say there's kind of a Bakken price and then a regular price."

HUD also is seeking input from tribal communities on a Native American housing needs study, which will is expected to be released at the end of the year, Castro said.

The event is from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the Ramada, 1400 East Interchange Ave., Bismarck.

"I'm convinced that in the years to come, we can be more creative in how we approach Native American housing needs," Castro said. "I see this housing summit as a strong starting point for that."

Poverty on reservations

Nationwide, more than one in four Native Americans living in tribal areas lives in poverty, according to federal data. Those rates are even higher for reservations in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana.

Poverty rate     Percent who live in overcrowded conditions or lack a kitchen, plumbing

ND 40%  14%


SD 49%   24%

MN 40%   10%

MT 37%    12%

All US tribes 31%   13%

All US persons 15%   4%


Source: HUD study compiled with data from the American Community Survey 2009-13

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