SB 18 could hike state funding of housing for Native Californians

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California’s homeless crisis is apparent in the state’s urban areas. However, unhoused people living in California’s tribal communities are less visible on the public’s radar screen.

Enter Senate Bill 18, the Tribal Housing Reconstitution and Resiliency Act. The bill would amend the state Health and Safety Code, relating to California’s housing for Native people on tribal lands. Currently, the supply of affordable and habitable housing for tribal residents is in short supply, according to Senate Majority Leader Mike McGuire, a Democrat who represents the North Coast.

“There is a public health crisis in these Native communities, and it begins with the lack of housing,” Sen. McGuire told Capitol Weekly. “We have to move with speed.”

About 9 percent of tribes in California have homes that lack complete plumbing and 7 percent lack complete kitchens, he says.

McGuire blames many of the issues unhoused Native Californians are experiencing on long-standing impacts of settler genocide, land dispossession and discrimination, which he says have led to almost unspeakable poverty for Native peoples. Consider household income of the Native Californians who are descendants of post-Gold Rush displacement. A third of tribal residents live below the federal poverty line of $13,950 for an individual; $18,310 for two persons; $23,030 for three people and $27,750 for a four-member household.

The Golden State boasts the biggest Native American population in the U.S. Over 365,000 Californians identify completely or partly as American Indian and/or Native American.

Building on Gov. Newsom’s Executive Order No. N-15-19 that formally apologizes to California’s Native Americans for a history of settler maltreatment, neglect and lethal violence, SB 18 would establish a tribal-specific housing fund dedicated to paying for the building and rehabbing of affordable homes for rent and sale. Tribal leaders from every corner of California would be in consultation for available state funds that meet the specific needs of Native communities, according to Sen. McGuire.

“There is a public health crisis in these Native communities, and it begins with the lack of housing…We have to move with speed.””

SB 18 passed the Senate Governmental Organization committee in March on a bipartisan basis. The bill was heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 8th, upon which it was referred to the Suspense File via a party line 7-0 vote.

The process of placing legislation in Suspense File allows for future consideration of a bill’s fiscal impact.

In the case of SB 18, a legislative consultant estimated ongoing spending of $1 million yearly to run the Tribal Housing Grant Program. Moreover, there could be potential General Fund expenditures of over $100 million annually.

Under SB 18 provisions, state funds would flow into a Tribal Housing Grant Program Trust Fund; later, appropriated annually for a five-year period that would begin next January 1 and run through December 31, 2028.

California tribes were unable to access state housing programs for decades, leaving them reliant on federal housing programs, for decades, according to Sen. McGuire. In the language of SB 18, federal spending is a necessary but insufficient way to fund the entirety of demand for comprehensive tribal housing and community development.

Against that backdrop, AB 1010 passed in 2019, making persons living in Native communities eligible for most state housing programs, while recreating the G. David Singleton California Indian Assistance Program (CIAP) at the Department of Housing and Community Development. However, state housing funds for tribal communities remain elusive. Only 13 of the federally recognized 109 tribes in California have received state housing funds.

According to SB 18, requirements of state housing programs “conflict with tribal sovereignty and the concept of sovereign immunity. As a result, tribes must often appeal for time-consuming program waivers, which depend on the good will and understanding of nontribal staff about tribal laws, culture, and practices.”

SB 18 supporters range from the Yurok Tribe to the Big Pine Paiute Tribe of the Owens Valley, Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria, Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, Karuk Tribe Housing Authority, Manchester Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians, Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians, Round Valley Indian Housing Authority, and others.

Chris Wright is the elected chair of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians in Santa Rosa. “SB 18 would be a game changer for all California Tribes and it is extremely important for Dry Creek Rancheria,” told Capitol Weekly. “We have such a huge need for housing and this would definitely help.”

The bill’s fate could be determined this week, as the Senate will act on Suspense File bills on Thursday, May 18th.

Seth Sandronsky is a member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild

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