By Chez Oxendina
California state senators have unanimously tabled a proposal to establish a state housing fund for Native Americans, with the goal of countering the continuing housing shortage in tribal communities already plagued by poverty and homelessness.
Senate Bill 18, or the Tribal Housing Resiliency and Reconstruction Act, would amend California’s Health and Safety Code to include a fund to build and rehabilitate affordable housing for California residents, according to a state leader Senate Majority and Democrat Mike McGuire, who represents the state’s North Shore region.
“Tribal communities face a staggering housing crisis that is rooted in historic genocide and racism, underinvestment, and lack of eligible funding,” McGuire said in a statement. “To truly address this public health crisis that exists in so many California tribal communities, the state must move quickly in partnership with tribal leaders to establish a dedicated tribal housing program with dedicated infrastructure funds. That’s why we’re working hand in hand with tribal leaders across the Golden State to move SB 18 forward.”
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McGuire pointed to the dire situation for Native Americans across the state: 9 percent of California tribes have homes without full plumbing, while 7 percent of tribes have homes without full kitchens. Those problems are compounded by widespread poverty: More than a third of tribal residents live below the federal poverty line, according to McGuire’s statement.
Tribes that try to address the problem through state support are hampered by red tape and conflicts with tribal sovereignty, McGuire writes. Some fail under strict thresholds and compliance requirements, while others find existing state housing programs, many of which target broader populations rather than specific demographic groups such as native-born, inadequate for their needs.
Under SB 18, the state would establish a Tribal Housing Subsidy Program Trust Fund, allocated annually for a five-year period beginning January 1 and ending December 31, 2028. A legal consultant speaking with the center square he estimated that the fund would cost approximately $1 million a year to operate and could draw up to $100 million from the general budget each year.
The program has been designed in consultation with state tribes, McGuire writes, which helps tailor assistance to specific tribal needs. The approach has garnered support from many California tribes, including the Yurok Tribe, the Karuk Tribe, the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians and others, according to McGuire’s statement.
“SB 18 would be a game changer for every tribe in California and is extremely important to Dry Creek Rancheria,” said Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians president Chris Wright, talking to capitol weekly. “We are in dire housing need and this would definitely help.”
The bill advanced from the Senate Appropriations Committee via a 7-person unanimous vote on May 18, then passed the Senate on May 25. The bill now goes to the California State Assembly for a vote, though that date has not yet been announced.
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