HOLLYWOOD — A senior HUD official made the Seminole Tribe of Florida an early stop in his new position – one that assists Native Americans.
Hunter Kurtz was recently named the principal deputy assistant secretary in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing. The position and department fall under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Long names and titles aside, Kurtz came to Hollywood on June 3 to tour the Reservation and visit with staff at the Native Learning Center.
“[The NLC is] helping not only their own Tribal members but tribes across the nation and I think that’s fantastic” Kurtz said. “They are helping lots and lots of people. That’s what we do in this industry; we get up every morning to try and help people. I think this is a very good example of that.”
Kurtz met with NLC Executive Director Georgette Palmer Smith (Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma/Choctaw), members of her staff and others at the complex, located at 6363 Taft Street in Hollywood.
“I’m really proud of where we’re at now as far as our reach because we started with zero in a database to now 7,100,” Smith said. “It was all word of mouth in the beginning and then we began a more aggressive outreach program and doing Constant Contact to increase signups.”
The NLC, known as a networking hub, has entered its 11th year in operation. It is recognized as a first of its kind Tribal initiative that holds seminars, trainings, and provides technical assistance both in person and online to Native Americans and those working in Indian Country. Programs it offers include grant writing and management, procurement, housing, nonprofit establishment and more.
In 2013, the NLC launched its e-learning webinar platform system Kerretv, the Creek word for learning.
Tribal officials across the country have reached out to the NLC over the years for advice on how to establish a similar initiative on their own reservations.
“I think what you’re doing is really incredible. We hope there are folks who will model this,” Kurtz said during a roundtable discussion at the NLC.
“Everywhere across the nation, not just in Tribal areas, we’re facing an affordable housing crisis and we have to find unique and new ways to improve upon that. Right now as a nation we are only housing about a quarter of the people that need this type of housing.”
HUD’s Office of Native American Programs (ONAP) administers housing and community development programs that benefit Native Americans.
Kurtz said that while Native Americans face housing challenges similar to the general population, there are differences, and HUD has specific programs for Native populations.
Homeownership is also something Seminole Tribal leaders have tried to secure for all Tribal members who want it.
“We’re proud of the work we’re doing and helping our Native people in any way that we can to build better communities, better housing options and safe communities,” Smith said.
Kurtz and Smith cited HUD’s Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program as one that has been pivotal in helping Native Americans achieve homeownership.
“Getting everyone to where they need to be to be a homeowner is really exciting,” Smith said. “When they do purchase their homes it’s a big celebration; it’s very rewarding and very fulfilling.”
Kurtz made his way to Hollywood after attending the PHADA (Public Housing Authorities Directors Association) conference in Miami. He was at the conference with HUD special adviser Alexander Coffey, who initially suggested the two visit the Tribe before heading back to Washington, D.C.
“Native American tribes are an integral part of our culture [in Florida],” said Coffey, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale and attended the University of Florida. “Even going back all the way to the earliest settlers, trade, the New River – all our history is connected to the Tribal leaders. I’m so happy to be able to show that connection to [Kurtz] and broadcast all the good work [NLC] is doing.”
Kurtz, who has worked in and around HUD and housing programs for much of his career, including for the Obama and George W. Bush Administrations, admitted it was refreshing to be outside of Washington, D.C., to see what programs were working for Native Americans.
It was one of Kurtz’ first stops in his new position, but not his last.
“We’re honored that you selected us and our Tribe to visit and we are always excited to show off our center; we’re very, very proud of it,” Smith said.