An Affordable Housing Model for Indigenous Americans

Indigenous people make up a disproportionately high percentage of the unhoused population, but many programs designed to assist them don’t reach those most in need.

1 minute read

March 1, 2024, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Ice fishing tents surrounded by fence in Safe Outdoor Space for unhoused people in parking lot in Denver, Colorado.

A Safe Outdoor Space in Denver, Colorado. | Colorado Village Collaborative / Safe Outdoor Spaces

A Native-Inclusive Safe Outdoor Space (SOS) in Denver, Colorado offers shelter to unhoused Indigenous people, in advance of the first affordable housing complex designed for Indigenous residents which will break ground this year.

As Raksha Vasudevan explains in High Country News, “Indigenous people comprise 2.6% of America’s population, but in 2023, they accounted for 3.9% of those experiencing homelessness.” Vasudevan adds that “In Denver, they are overrepresented in the unhoused population by 400%.” Across the West, over 16,000 Indigenous people were homeless in 2023.

To get around federal prohibitions on using race as a criterion in housing programs, the housing authority in Portland, Oregon used  HUD Indian Housing Block Grant funding to create affordable housing that prioritizes Indigenous people. Other organizations use proxy indicators such as “educational attainment, income, home value, utilization of social services, and free and reduced lunch status for children” to ensure Indigenous people get access to the services and housing they need.

According to Derrick Belgarde, Siletz and Chippewa-Cree, executive director of Chief Seattle Club, “There’s certain populations where it makes sense … to provide specifically for them.” Belgarde adds, “What the data shows is that you should be able to do that with Native Americans as well.”

Tuesday, February 27, 2024 in High Country News

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