Two hugely important Native American housing bills are on their way to the House of Representatives after passing the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. One bill, to boost mortgages on trust land by speeding up the title process, passed unanimously. The other, to reauthorize a landmark bill languishing in Congress for a decade, passed by 86-11 as an amendment tucked into a massive defense spending bill.
The Tribal Trust Land Homeownership Act of 2023 directs the Bureau of Indian Affairs to speed approvals on applications for Title Status Reports (TSR). Delays on TSRs have been a major barrier to homeownership on Native reservations for decades.
The tribal trust homeownership legislation “establishes timeframes related to Title Status Reports and processing of mortgage packages,” said Steven Barbier, relationship manager for the Western region at nonprofit NeighborWorks America. “This should provide predictability to the lending industry related to the provision of title information,” he said.
So, for instance, “The 14 days included in S.70 and H.R.3579 refer to the requirement to provide the First Certified TSR (used for underwriting) within 14 days or inform the requester why they could not meet that timeframe,” according to Barbier.
Anecdotally, it can take up to six months for one of its lender partners to get a TSR, according to Miki Adams, president of the tribally-owned CBC Mortgage Agency of South Jordan, Utah. If it becomes law, the new Act “should significantly reduce processing delays,” she said. “The BIA is notorious for the length of its cumbersome reviews.”
CBC, owned by the Cedar Band of Paiute Indians, is a third-party lender, meaning it does not do its own mortgage originations directly with borrowers, but buys them from a group of affiliated lenders. Those lenders can be impacted by TSR delays.
But the new Act, should it pass the House of Representatives and be signed into law, could benefit CBC directly by making it easier for its outside lenders to make mortgages on reservation trust land, loans CBC would then acquire.
And that is something the mortgage company wants to do. The majority of its mortgage volume (52 percent) is made to minorities and first-time borrowers, but just a small percentage of that volume goes to American Indians, Adams said. CBC would like to increase that percentage.
“We have a big focus on improving that rate within Indian Country,” she said.
Another effort at CBC will be to roll out the United States Department of Agriculture’s Section 502 guaranteed mortgage, which is used in rural areas and therefore is suitable for Indian mortgages on reservations or in border areas.
CBC is hoping to see more flexibility in HUD’s Section 184 guaranteed American Indian mortgage, by improved operation of its automated underwriting system, Adams said.
A hearing was recently held on the 184, and Adams would like to see legislation drafted soon.
CBC is one of the few tribally-owned mortgage companies in the country. It specializes in down payment assistance (DPA) loans, a way to help affordable housing buyers qualify for loans.
Other types of Indian-owned financial institutions include commercial banks, credit unions, and Native Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). Mortgage companies and CDFIs make loans, but do not take deposits; banks and credit unions are depositories.
Easing delays in getting TSRs would benefit all four of these types of Native financial institutions, Adams said.
Native housing advocates are encouraged by the advance of the Native homeownership legislation, which was introduced in Congress back in 2021. The Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) has been bumping around Congress even longer. It was originally introduced for reauthorization in 2013.
The National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) issued a joint statement following the passage of the NAHASDA reauthorization.
“NAHASDA has been a successful and supportive program since its inception,” said Chelsea Fish, executive director of NAIHC.
“NAHASDA is the mechanism for self-determination in tribal housing. Its enactment allows tribes to create their own Indian Housing Plan, where they can prioritize senior assisted housing, rental assistance or homeownership,” she said.
“Native communities continue to lag behind the rest of the country in safe, affordable and accessible housing. A simple but critically important step to combat this issue is to reauthorize and make permanent NAHASDA,” NCAI executive director Larry Wright Jr. said.
An analysis by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) noted: “In addition to current NAHASDA programs, S. 2264 authorizes the Tribal HUD-VASH program which is currently a demonstration.”
The program is a joint venture of HUD and the Veterans Administration to house and care for Native veterans.
“The bill also creates new eligible activities under the act for student housing assistance including education-related stipends, college housing assistance, and other education-related assistance for low-income college students,” according to NLIHC.
“The NAHASDA reauthorization would also elevate the Office of Native American Program (ONAP) within HUD to have its own assistant secretary. Currently, ONAP is situated within the Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) and is led by a deputy assistant secretary.”
The 10-year delay was made less disruptive because Congress passed housing aid each year.
NAHASDA was passed in 1996 and has been a primary force in American Indian housing. The “SD” in its title stands for “Self Determination,” a significant acknowledgement of tribal sovereignty.
NAHASDA took the administration of Native housing money largely from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and gave it to tribes. It also directed that tribes “leverage” their housing money with private sources, to get more housing built.
President Biden’s 2023 NAHASDA request was for $1 billion, far from what is needed to solve Indian housing needs, experts say.
The NAHASDA reauthorization was attached as an amendment to the defense bill, which had strong bipartisan support.
NAIHC’s Fish hopes that House members will take the time to understand how their constituencies — both Natives and non-Natives —will benefit from NAHASDA.
“Housing is also an economic development vehicle,” she told Tribal Business News. That can provide economic benefits not just to tribes, but to surrounding communities in terms of jobs, supply chain purchasing and consumer spending. The benefits also spill over into finance and investment, she said.
“The people who are going to finance housing projects in tribal communities are going to make money,” she said. “There is a financial incentive for banks and other investors … to ensure a steady supply of capital for these projects.”
Managing editor Brian Edwards provided additional reporting on this story.