Interior Proposes to Ease Eligibility and Increase Funding for Tribal Housing Improvement Program (HIP)

By: Rachel Giubilato | Law Clerk
Theodore J. Griswold | Partner |

On January 2, 2015 the Department of the Interior (DOI) issued a Proposed Rule to amend the Housing Improvement Program (HIP). HIP provides federal funding for Native families who meet federal income guidelines to repair, replace, or renovate housing. The DOI expects the proposed changes to more efficiently prioritize HIP applicants and provide more adequate funding for Native applicants seeking HIP funding.

The Proposed Rule makes six significant changes:

  1. Categories of Assistance and Funding Limits: The Proposed Rule increases the limit for Category A funding (repair of existing homes) from $2,500 to $7,500 and increases the limit for Category B funding (renovation of existing homes) from $35,000 to $60,000.
  2. Ranking Factors. Ranking Factors determine priority for HIP applicants based on annual household income, age, disability, and family size. The Proposed Rule adds new ranking factors for homelessness, overcrowding, and dilapidated housing. Additionally, the Proposed Rule changes the eligibility criteria under annual household income from 125% to 150% of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.
  3. Payback Agreements. The Proposed Rule lengthens the Category B (renovation of existing homes) payback period from 5 years to 10 years. All other payback periods are kept status quo.
  4. Four-Year Application Period. The Proposed Rule changes the application period from 1 year to 4 years to prevent Native families from having to apply annually for HIP funds.
  5. [Relaxed] Land Ownership Requirements. The Proposed Rule allows proof of a homesite lease or proof the HIP applicant can obtain the land (even by lease) in lieu of the current requirement to provide proof of land ownership prior to the grant award.
  6. Square Footage Limits. The Proposed Rule increases square footage limits between 50-100 square feet to provide ADA compliant housing.

The change in HIP regulations could empower more Native families to ensure their are more opportunities for their house needs to be met.  The increase in funding coupled with the release of the land ownership requirements will add a needed degree of flexibility allowing more Native families to qualify for the program. Comments on the proposed rule are open until March 6, 2015. The proposed rule and directions for comments are found here.

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.

Advising the Advisor to the President: My Experience with Federal Governmental Advisory Committees

By: Stephanie Conduff | Law Clerk |
Theodore J. Griswold | Partner |

There are experiences in life that you have to be there to believe. So often in Indian Country, we recount the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) failures without any appreciation of the people who create these organizational structures and buildings in Washington DC and all over the United States.

Two of the major players that you read about in Congressional Testimony, court filings and national media headlines are:

  • Kevin Washburn – Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs for the US Department of the Interior
  • Yvette Roubideaux – Acting Director, Indian Health Service

This time last week, I worked side-by-side with the DOI Self-Governance Advisory Committee and the Indian Health Service (IHS) Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee to participate in the consultation process between tribal leaders and the federal government. They are empowered with the task of advising both Secretary Washburn and Dr. Roubideaux on a myriad of multifaceted policy topics including advanced appropriations, contract support costs, Ebola preparedness, third-party collections and grants for school boards. In turn, Secretary Washburn and Dr. Roubideaux advise the President.

These two aren’t figureheads. They are engaging and passionate leaders. Both confident, respectful and open to learning. They exemplify the spirit of consultation and what a government-to-government relationship should look like; in this room one could imagine observing the G8 Summit. This work group feels more like a peer group than a representational sampling of sovereigns. Perhaps it is because we are all related – by definition a tribe is a family of families. I realize that I am kinfolk to at least three people in the room before lunch. Governance changes when you have to answer to the taxpayers and to Great Aunt Pearl on Sunday. Both want answers.

I leave day two especially thankful policy work groups like this exist to ensure the mundane (think FY 2016 appropriations) are in line and the urgent (imagine Ebola isolation units at your local IHS facility) are anticipated. It is the work of these leaders in Indian Country that we are protected, represented and heard by the federal decision makers on the most important issues facing our families, neighbors and communities.

This was true consultation – one that can’t be codified by law. It can only be done out of genuine respect for self-governance and by a true statesman (or stateswoman). It’s refreshing to see the head of these agencies – sitting in a circle – with tribal leadership. They joke. They laugh. They are serious, focused and respectful. This wasn’t just a stop on a busy agenda of meetings but a place where a team of advisors met to hold each other accountable and generate solutions to Indian Country’s top problems.

Stephanie Conduff is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.