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In early 2023, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka (FHLB Topeka) wondered if they would see demand for a new grant program for Native American housing projects.   

They didn’t have to wonder long: the group opened a program called the Native American Housing Initiative (NAHI) with a $1 million commitment from the bank.  Amid immense demand for the funding, the bank’s commitment quickly ballooned and it ended up disbursing $3 million to eight tribal entities, including Native housing and community development organizations.

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FHLB Topeka has expanded that initial commitment to $3.6 million in its second year of the initiative, which is currently seeking applications. Federally recognized tribes and tribally designated housing entities in the bank’s service area — Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma — are eligible. Applications for the grant are open through July 12, and the bank expects to announce the awards in October. 

Kylie Mergen, community investment officer and director of housing and community development, said the 2023 demand made sense. FLHB Topeka, part of a wider network of 11 such federal home loan banks, covers Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Their region’s population is, per-capita, more Native American than any other.

That meant expanding this year’s program in hopes of attracting even more applicants also made sense, Mergen said. 

“When creating the program, it was sort of a ‘If we build it, will they come?’ (type of ) thing,” Mergen told Tribal Business News. “Given the significant response we had, we’re very hopeful we’ll receive a similar demand. This is a space where we feel like we can make an impact.”

In 2023, funding went to eight tribally affiliated recipients that received grants from roughly $100,000 to $500,000. The money supported projects like a storm shelter, housing development planning, and a youth homeless shelter. Awarded tribes and housing entities were also able to provide rental assistance, down payments on homes, and repair funds.

The eight recipients in 2023 were:

  • Housing Authority of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma - $500,000
  • Absentee Shawnee Housing Authority - $250,000
  • Comanche Nation Housing Authority - $500,000
  • Ho Chunk Community Development Corporation - $250,000
  • Tonkawa Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma - $250,000
  • Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation - $500,000
  • Omaha Tribe Housing Authority - $477,932
  • Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska - $272,068

The funding amounts will be in the same $100,000 to $500,000 range in 2024, according to the FHLB Topeka website. Interested tribal organizations must complete and submit an application in partnership with an FHLBank member institution. Recipients of the grant will receive the funds through the FHLBank member institution sponsoring the application.

Typically, federal home loan banks are required to use 10 percent of their overall income in community support programs. This year FHLB Topeka committed to collecting an additional 5 percent to fund programs like NAHI, Mergen said.

In addition to widening the available pool of funding, it also gives awardees broader authority over the funding’s usage, Mergen said. The fact that these funds are voluntary, rather than collected through regulation, means there are fewer strings attached.

“We don’t have a lot of restrictions. The uniqueness of these voluntary funds is that they don’t have to meet all these regulations,” Mergen said. “[Awardees] don’t have to fit in that box, so these uses can be flexible and let the recipients do what they do best.”

About The Author
Chez Oxendine
Staff Writer
Chez Oxendine (Lumbee-Cheraw) is a staff writer for Tribal Business News. Based in Oklahoma, he focuses on broadband, Indigenous entrepreneurs, and federal policy. His journalism has been featured in Native News Online, Fort Gibson Times, Muskogee Phoenix, Baconian Magazine, and Oklahoma Magazine, among others.
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