Village Earth

Millions more for reservation housing after Red Lake Band of Chippewa and Village Earth challenge Federal Census data


illage Earth is pleased to announce that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has accepted our challenge of the Federal Census data used to calculate the Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota. The decision will amount to a $1,074,880 increase in their allocation for 2018 and $743,417 to their 2019 allocation (retroactively applied). The challenge was organized by the Red Lake Economic Development & Planning Department with support from Village Earth. Our data will continue to be used by HUD to calculate Red Lake Band’s housing block grants until 2022 amounting to millions more in funding for housing. The IHBG is used by Tribally Designated Housing Authorities (TDHE’s) for housing development, assistance to housing developed under the Indian Housing Program, housing services to eligible families and individuals, crime prevention and safety, and model activities that provide creative approaches to solving affordable housing problems. Additionally, our data will impact funding from the Department of Transportation which calculates part of their formula funding for road construction and maintenance from the IHBG data.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa, located on the Red Lake Reservation in rural northern Minnesota, struggles with one of the most dire housing situations in the United States. With an estimated population of 6,597 there are at least 117 families without homes. Additionally, there are at least 235 households that experience a severe housing cost burden (where over 50% of their income is used for rent/utilities) and at least 140 households that lack adequate kitchen and/or bathroom facilities. The situation at Red Lake is mirrored on Native American Reservations nationwide. According to the National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) “overcrowding, substandard housing, and homelessness are far more common in Native American communities.” NAIHC, citing HUD data point out that “5.6 percent of homes on Native American lands lacked complete plumbing and 6.6 percent lacked complete kitchens. These are nearly four times than the national average, which saw rates of 1.3 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively.”


There are numerous challenges to the development of housing on American Indian Reservations but historically, one of the biggest challenges has been the disproportional levels of poverty and the fact that most Reservation lands are not owned outright by Tribes and Individual Native Americans but instead, most Indian lands are held in trust for Native Americans by the Federal Government. In a practical sense, what that means is that even though Tribes and individual Native Americans may hold title to significant tracts of land, those lands are encumbered by their Trust status with the Federal Government. While this relationship has protected Indian lands from being sold-off to non-tribal members it has also created a significant barrier to access financing for the construction of homes, since lands held in trust cannot be used as a guarantee of repayment by most lenders.

Through treaties, statutes, and historical relations with Indian tribes, the United States has a unique trust responsibility to protect and support Indian tribes and Indian people. The Indian Housing Block Grant, authorized by congress in the 1996 Native American Housing and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA), is one of the ways the United States attempts to fulfill its responsibility. In 2018 congress approved $755 million for the IHBG, while this may seem like a large amount of money, it is a drop-in-bucket of what is actually needed to address the housing crisis on American Indian Reservations where it is estimated by the NAIHC that 68,000 homes are needed to address the shortage. Funding under the IHBG is distributed to tribes based on a formula derived primarily from data collected by the Federal Census Bureau. However, there is a provision in the federal statute that allows tribes to challenge the data used to calculate their allocation.

Since 2005 Village Earth has assisted several American Indian Tribes who believe the federal census data does not accurately reflect the reality that exists at their Reservations but needed solid data to test that belief. There is ample evidence for Tribes to be suspicious, especially for tribes in rural parts of the country where the Census Bureau may lack accurate maps of housing and where response rates may be lower than other sociodemographic groups. According a 2018 GAO report “the [Census] Bureau estimated that it missed nearly 5 percent of American Indians living on reservations—the sociodemographic group with the highest percent net undercount in 2010—whereas the Bureau estimated it overcounted almost 1 percent of non-Hispanic whites.” Over the years, Village Earth has innovated a methodology to create more accurate maps of housing in Indian Country but more importantly, we have over 20 years experience conducing surveys and needs assessments in Indian Country and understand the unique challenges and opportunities that exist for collecting complete and accurate data. Paramount to our approach is working closely with local stakeholders and training locals to do the data collection using state-of-the-art methods and tools.

For more information contact David Bartecchi [email protected] or 970-238-3002 Ext. 504

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