September 19, 2018

Changing the State of Native American Homeownership

I was recently in Minneapolis at the Federal Reserve Bank for the release of the Tribal Leaders Handbook on Homeownership. The Center for Indian Country Development (CICD) spearheaded the effort for this reference in conjunction with Enterprise Community Partners and other entities in the Native homeownership effort.

A major part of the American dream is owning your very own home. To many Native Americans, homeownership is just that — a dream. It is apparent that there are far too few Native American homeowners. This new handbook will equip tribal leaders and those working in the housing industry with the information needed to empower and support tribal citizen homeownership and the community’s drive for economic development.  
Why is the handbook seeking out tribal leaders? 

Read the Handbook

Frankly, they are elected not only to fulfill the housing needs of the people, but they are also able to make decisions and pursue and procure housing funding. Once this funding is awarded, it is essential that it be used in a creative way that is perpetual in creating a culture of homeownership. 

It is important for tribal leaders to leverage resources and understand the impact homeownership has on the social and economic health of their community. By ensuring infrastructure is in place and land management elements are prepared, the handbook offers support to a thriving new development and community. Proper planning and development result in lenders, homebuyers and stakeholders coming together to promote active mortgage and construction development within in the tribal community or pueblo. 

Three strategies were developed to empower tribal leaders to support homeownership: 

  1. Understand how homeownership will impact the social and economic health of the community.
  2. Improve governmental processes to provide certainty for lenders, the homebuyer and other entities involved in the homebuying process. Make sure housing policies are in place -- a cornerstone to any housing program.
  3. Foster an environment that creates vibrant mortgage and residential construction markets that directly impact the community.

A Case Study From New Mexico

A case study was concluded on the San Felipe Pueblo in New Mexico. They have been innovative and forward-thinking in fostering a culture of homeownership. The Black Mesa View subdivision is the first significant housing development on the San Felipe Pueblo in more than two generations. 

The pueblo purchased 100 acres adjacent to a new school  -- a strategic location choice to spark economic development and growth. Development of Black Mesa View began in August 2012 with 28 modular homes, with a long-term goal of 150 homes: 135 single-family houses and 15 multi-family buildings.

San Felipe Housing Authority in the process is creating employment opportunities for the community, using its own construction crew. This same construction crew has been contracted by other pueblo housing authorities, further increasing San Felipe Housing Authority’s impact on Native American housing in New Mexico.

Assessing and Addressing Community Needs

There are many obstacles and challenges left to overcome if homeownership statistics are to increase and make an impact on the dismal Native American housing situation. Assessing the a community’s housing needs -- and desires -- is essential to establishing a homeownership program.

Just some of the factors to consider: 

  • Land issues that may arise, including trust lands, which are often process-prohibitive
  • Thoughtful design and construction 
  • Green alternatives, like solar power 
  • Homebuyer education and financial education and counseling for prospective homeowners
  • Energy options that are cost-effective for the homeowner 
  • Cultural appropriateness 
  • Leveraging resources, like those from the USDA
  • Using LIHTC strategies to leverage funds 

Just the Beginning

Enterprise’s Rural and Native American Initiative with funding from Freddie Mac is creating training and curriculum to support the development and implementation of tribal homeownership programs. I personally look forward to my part in this effort. 

Tribal leaders, equipped with this comprehensive resource, can proactively establish or bolster their communities’ current homeownership capabilities. I anticipate tribal leaders becoming champions in the housing effort. The Tribal Leaders Handbook on Homeownership is just the beginning.

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