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A severe lack of housing on American Indian reservations means that many Native Americans who would prefer to live there are instead forced to rent a home in a community nearby. That's the case for the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming. Some tribal members there are still struggling to find places to live because of what they say is racial discrimination. Wyoming Public Radio's Melodie Edwards reports.
MELODIE EDWARDS, BYLINE: Ever since last summer, Ken Hebah has been unable to find a place to live. The Eastern Shoshone member says he doesn't need much.
KEN HEBAH: More like a - maybe, like, a one-bedroom just for me.
EDWARDS: Until Hebah finds his own place, he's living at his sister's house on the reservation. He's a nurse with good credit history, but he says somehow, landlords just won't rent to him.
HEBAH: That's the first question. Do you party? Do you drink? Do you have a lot of people? There already assume I'm going to do something like that, and that's where I feel I'm being discriminated because of my race.
EDWARDS: The most recent study from the Department of Housing and Urban Development shows that 1 in 4 Native Americans has experienced housing discrimination, but few get around to filing formal complaints. In the last 10 years, only four people did so in this county, and Hebah wasn't one of them.
DAVE KELLOGG: This is a apartment house, and interestingly, this little trailer court is mine also.
EDWARDS: I'm taking a ride with landlord Dave Kellogg in his old VW Bug to see some of the apartment buildings he owns in the area.
KELLOGG: I just basically rent the space.
Mostly, Kellogg rents affordable two-bedroom, one-bath apartments. But he's learned to set strict rules after shelling out $15,000 repairing one apartment complex he says was trashed by former tenants. Since then, he requires detailed credit histories and plenty of references.
KELLOGG: The Native Americans are less able, in many instances, to meet the amount of information I want to have the credit application.
EDWARDS: Like, can you give me some examples?
KELLOGG: A lot of them don't have a bank account.
EDWARDS: Kellogg tries to be flexible, but he says he can't treat his rental business like a charity. Still, there are some things he won't budge on, like only allowing one family per apartment. This rule might be the hardest for Native Americans because many want to live in extended families in the same home. Kellogg had a problem with one Native family a few years back.
KELLOGG: All of a sudden, there was five kids in the apartment. And nobody wanted to admit to where they came from or do anything about getting them out. So I - we ended the rental agreement with some damage, I might add.
LYLE KONKEL: No, you cannot put a number on how many people can live in a unit.
EDWARDS: That's Lyle Konkel, field director for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Wyoming. He says you especially can't put a number on family members. Konkel says most landlords discriminate unknowingly. For instance, Kellogg was in his rights to use a strict credit application.
KONKEL: Here's the key. If you treat them like you treat everybody else in your application process, that's acceptable. But everyone has to be treated the same.
EDWARDS: Konkel says in order to better know how pervasive such discrimination is, he wishes more Native Americans would file complaints. Jane Juve is trying to help tribal members do just that. She's the liaison in the nearby city of Riverton between tribal and non-tribal communities. Since she's been on the job, she's found that many Native Americans are reluctant to file complaints because of longstanding mistrust of government agencies.
JANE JUVE: Just because you report something doesn't mean you lose control of that process, OK? You don't.
EDWARDS: To that end, Juve recently offered a landlord training on Fair Housing law, and she made it easier to find the complaint form by posting it on the city's website. For NPR News, I'm Melodie Edwards on the Wind River Reservation.
(SOUNDBITE OF CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH SONG, "BLUE TURNING GRAY")
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