Grant provides housing for Native American eldersby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Developers have won a federal grant for a Native American elders housing project in Minneapolis, a development American Indian planners say will provide much-needed housing.
As many as a half of the state's more than 86,000 American Indians live off the reservation. Thousands live in the Twin Cities and consider it home.
People who work with older American Indians who are poor are worried about the meager supply of housing for them in the Twin Cities. The developers say the $8 million project will help, but it will meet only a fraction of the overall need for housing.
The need for American Indian elder housing far outpaces supply in the Twin Cities, said Mike Goze, CEO of the American Indian Community Development Corporation.
"When we did our market study, there was need for 630 housing units and so with 47 we just touch the tip of the iceberg," he said.
The housing project will be built on Bloomington Avenue in south Minneapolis near Franklin Avenue.
Construction is expected to begin next spring. When finished, the development will contain one bedroom apartments for elders 62 years and older who are poor. Their monthly rents will be subsidized so they spend no more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
Long a destination for generations of American Indians, the neighborhood is home to an American Indian health facility, a cultural center, a school and the Little Earth housing project.
Thousands of Native Americans left reservations in the l950's as part of the federal government's strategy to eliminate tribes and assimilate the native people.
Norby Blake, raised on northwestern Minnesota's White Earth reservation, said she and others moved to cities for opportunity.
"We wanted more schooling; we wanted a job," Blake said. "And those were not possible on the reservation, much like small towns and the farm kids and small communities."
Blake, executive director of Inter-Tribal Elder Services, is one of the organizers behind the American Indian elder housing project.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently approved a $6.7 million grant that covers most of the project's cost.
Goze said foundations and others also have promised to help fund the project, which will give residents access to medical care through a nearby clinic.
That's important, because a disproportionate number of older American Indians have health problems earlier than the general population. Twyla Baker-Demaray, director of the National Resource Center on Native American Aging at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, said many lack access to health care.
The myth, Baker-Demaray said, is that gambling has enriched tribal governments with money for housing and other tribal needs.
She said only about a third of the country's more than 560 federally recognized tribes have gambling profits from casinos and many of the operations are marginally profitable.
As a result, poverty has exacted a higher toll on older American Indians, Twyla Baker-Demaray said.
"A Native American elder age 55 is comparable to a non-native or U.S. general population at age 65," she said. "So we have similar demographics and similar chronic diseases and similar experiences as those who would be 10 years older than us in the general population."
The state's largest non profit housing developer, CommonBond Communities is a partner with the American Indian Community Development Corporation elder housing project.
Goze said the development already has a name: Bii Di Gain Dash Anwebi. In Ojibwe, that means, "come in, rest."
- Morning Edition, 09/03/2010, 7:25 a.m.