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WASHINGTON – A bipartisan bill aimed at accelerating the review and processing of mortgages on tribal lands has cleared the Senate by unanimous consent.  

The Senate advanced the Tribal Trust Land Homeownership Act of 2023 without amendment on July 18. Introduced in January by a bipartisan group of five senators, the legislation would require the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to process and complete all mortgages associated with residential and business mortgages on Indian land by certain deadlines. 

The bill aims to expedite the mortgage approval process, hold the BIA accountable and encourage more lenders to provide mortgages across Indian Country, according to a pair of South Dakota senators who co-sponsored the legislation.  

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“Affordable housing opportunities on tribal trust land can be hard to come by in South Dakota and across the nation due in part to the BIA’s challenging mortgage approval process, which can complicate lenders’ ability to provide financing to prospective homebuyers and participate in federal tribal housing programs,” Republican Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds said in a joint statement. 

The pair co-sponsored the legislation with Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and a trio of Democratic lawmakers, Sens. Tina Smith of Minnesota, Jon Tester of Montana, and Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico. 

Native American housing advocates and industry professionals commended the legislators for prioritizing mortgage processes within the BIA and promoting accountability. 

“It is essential that Native people have equal access to mortgage transactions, just like any other citizen in this country,” Chelsea Fish, executive director at the National American Indian Housing Council, said in a statement. “This bill focuses on aligning the processes of the BIA with standard practices in the private mortgage industry.”

That alignment will ultimately make it easier for Native Americans to become homeowners, according to Miki Adams, president of CBC Mortgage Agency, which is owned by the Cedar Band of Paiute Indians.  

“As a tribally owned home lender, we have a deep-seeded interest in making it easier for American Indian families to become homeowners. The Tribal Trust Land Homeownership Act is a powerful step toward eliminating the delays many Indigenous families face when buying a home,” Adams said, calling on the House of Representatives to swiftly pass the legislation and send it to President Biden for his signature.

The national Mortgage Bankers Association cheered the legislation, saying it will improve accessibility of mortgage financing on tribal lands.

“This important legislation will reduce or eliminate [BIA] processing delays, improving access to credit by encouraging more lenders to participate in trust land mortgage lending,” MBA Senior Vice President of Legislative and Political Affairs Bill Killmer told Housingwire. “Addressing these processing delays and improving credit availability will go a long way in helping more Indigenous and Native families buy a home.”

The legislation will now head to the House, where it’s co-sponsored by the co-chairs of the Native American Caucus, Tom Cole (R-OK) and Sharice Davids (D-KS), as well as Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD).