A three-year $873,963 federal grant could improve the health of homes on Montana’s Indian reservations.
The grant, given to Montana State University Extension’s Housing and Environmental Health program by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will allow 500 houses on the state’s seven reservations to get health assessments.
The program, which will continue over the next two years, will be under the auspices of the newly created national Tribal Healthy Homes Assessment and Training Center at MSU. In addition to healthy homes specialists conducting the housing assessments, the office will offer training opportunities to tribes in nine regions of the United States about how to undertake a home assessment or audit.
Money for the grant comes out of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The project is a good fit for the work the Extension Service is already doing, said Michael Vogel, MSU Extension housing and environmental health specialist.
“Within the Extension Service there is a housing program, and we do a lot of working with housing across the state,” Vogel said. “And this was an opportunity to enhance our outreach and education by learning more about housing conditions and providing some additional services to families on reservations.”
According to a news release about the program, a healthy homes practitioner from the MSU Extension Service will respond to requests from residents and homeowners to visit the premises. The practitioner will perform a variety of tests, including radon and carbon monoxide testing.
Each homeowner will also receive a kit of products they can use to clean and detect high moisture. Participants who don’t already have one will also get a free fire extinguisher and carbon monoxide detector.
The program will not cover repairs needed to fix any major problems, Vogel said. The Extension Service has applied for a separate grant for funds that would focus on those types of fixes.
“But the majority type of home health types of things are prevention,” he said. “So we are looking at low-cost, no-cost types of things people can do.”
For instance, he said, it might involve buying less toxic types of household chemicals. Or learning what types of cleaning can help in a household where someone lives with asthmas or allergies.
The program’s infrastructure is already in place, Vogel said. Extension offices are set up in each county in the state, on all seven reservations and at the tribal colleges.
But it’s up to each reservation whether it wants to participate in the program. Tribes on the Flathead and Fort Belknap reservations have signaled their desire to take part.
“We’re working with all seven through our extension contacts and the tribal councils,” Vogel said. “And once they give us their approval, then we’ll work with the local folks to provide the service.”
The 500 home assessments funded in the program will be split equally among the reservations that participate, he said.
For homeowners and resident who don’t live on the reservations, he said, other resources are available. Publications that deal with healthy housing, child home safety and other housing issues can be picked up at any county or tribal extension office, Vogel said.