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Unsafe Blackfeet homes

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Toxic mold and other problems plaguing the Blackfeet Reservation’s Glacier Homes development have been mushrooming for more than 30 years, and now support for the people who live there is growing, too.

At a Feb. 28 press conference, three American Indian legislators, backed by nearly 40 other state representatives, called on Montana’s congressional delegation to support a federal bailout for the 150-plus affected households.

“We need congressional support to replace these unsafe, substandard homes that are generating toxins that pose such a serious health threat to the families and their children,” said Sen. Carol Juneau, a Browning Democrat who was joined by Arlee Rep. Joey Jayne and Browning Rep. Shannon Augare.

Built with chemically treated wood that is now banned for residential use, the Glacier Homes—a project funded by the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)—have developed a host of structural problems and toxic mold infestations that residents hold responsible for a wide range of health woes, including asthma, cancer, chronic headaches, and nosebleeds. In 2007, University of Montana assistant professor Robin Saha led a Glacier Homes health study that found toxic mold in 74 percent of the residences tested.

After unsuccessfully seeking help for years, Glacier Homes’ residents sued HUD and the Blackfeet Housing Authority, but the case is now lingering in federal appeals courts.

“The writing’s on the wall that this will be appealed to the Supreme Court, so there needs to be congressional intervention,” Saha says. “Residents feel they can’t wait any longer.”

Congress is currently debating renewal of a federal Indian housing act, and Juneau and other legislators urged Montana’s delegation to include an appropriation that would help resolve a “public health tragedy.”

Speaking in Missoula March 1, Sen. Jon Tester, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, called the Glacier Homes’ problems “critically important.” He noted that the Blackfeet aren’t alone in their housing crisis—a 2003 HUD study found toxic mold in 15 percent of tribal housing nationwide—and said he’d work to renew the Indian housing act “so the issue in Indian housing is dealt with more globally.”

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