Overcrowding, substandard housing, and homelessness are rampant in Native American communities

Poor HousingDuring the 1800s, the United States relegated most of this country’s Indian tribes to reservations in remote and undesirable locations away from major cities. This geographical isolation has led to poverty and a lack of lack basic infrastructure, employment opportunities, and housing. According to the Government Accountability Office, Native Americans “disproportionately experience socioeconomic challenges, including high unemployment and extreme poverty that impact housing conditions on Indian reservations.” [1] Indeed, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that American Indians and Alaska Natives were almost twice as likely to live in poverty as the rest of the population—27 percent compared with 14.3 percent. In addition, overcrowding, substandard housing, and homelessness are rampant in Native American communities.[2] For example, on tribal lands:

  • approximately 28 percent of reservation housing units lack adequate plumbing and kitchen facilities, a rate five times greater than the national average;
  • nearly 46 percent of Native households are overcrowded, a rate almost three times greater than the rest of the country[3];
  • 70 percent of the existing housing stock need of upgrades and repairs, many of them extensive; and
  • less than half of all reservation homes are connected to water sanitation facilities.[4]


Overcrowding and poor housing can lead to increased health risks

Poor HousingPoor housing and overcrowding impacts have far reaching negative impacts. Overcrowded homes, or homes with more than one occupant per room, are common on tribal lands with overcrowding at a rate nearly three times the national average.[5] Crowding on tribal lands aggravates the substandard living conditions, leading to lower educational attainment, substance abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect. Crowding also affects health, increasing the incidences of tuberculosis, pneumonia, gastrointestinal disorders, head lice, conjunctivitis, and hepatitis.[6]

In a 2015 Senate hearing on tribal housing, Senator Tester from Montana succinctly summed up the problem: “When we discuss the state of Indian housing, we must describe it in the term of crisis. A great many things impact the daily lives of Native Americans, but none so more, none more so, than housing.”


[1] GAO Report to Congress, NATIVE AMERICAN HOUSING Additional Actions Needed to Better Support Tribal Efforts (March 2014).[2] Id.[3] Statement Of Hon. Brian Schatz, U.S. Senator From Hawaii, before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, (April 10, 2013).[4] Cheryl A. Causley, Chairwoman, National American Indian Housing Council before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, (April 10, 2013).[5] Housing on Native American Lands, Rural Research Report, Housing Assistance Council (September 2013).[6] See Testimony of Moises Loza, Executive Director, Housing Assistance Council before Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, (April 10, 2013).
Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith

Manager and co-owner of Hohokam™ Water LLC

red-canyon-logoManager and co-owner of Red CanyonTM Water LLC, Ryan A. Smith, has dedicated his career to helping tribes secure access to clean drinking water. Ryan served as Deputy Counsel for the Arizona Department of Water Resources and as professional staff in the U.S. Senate where he secured hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding for Indian tribes throughout the United States. He continues to work as an attorney, working with tribes to secure funding for critical water infrastructure.