Udull urges BIA, HUD to improve programs for Native borrowers
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, joined Chairman John Hoeven (R-N.D.) to convene an oversight hearing entitled, “Lending Opportunities: Opening the Door to Homeownership in Indian Country.” The committee received testimony from Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)Director Darryl LaCounte, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing Hunter Kurtz, Isleta Pueblo Governor Max Zuni, Fort Belknap Indian Community Councilman Nathaniel Mount, and Center for Indian Country Development Director and Minneapolis Federal Reserve Vice President Patrice Kunesh.
“Homeownership has long been the epitome of the ‘American Dream.’ Yet, even with federal programs like the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program, homeownership remains only a dream for too many in Indian Country. Structural barriers, including difficulty securing home loans on trust land, continue to prevent many Native Americans from owning their own homes. The dream of homeownership should be attainable to everyone, no matter where they live in the United States,” Udall said in his opening statement.
Udall stressed the importance of Native Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI), like Isleta Pueblo’s Tiwa Lending Services, in filling the existing gap for Native borrowers acquiring mortgages for housing on Tribal trust land.
“Tiwa is directly addressing existing barriers to Tribal homeownership by providing financial services, such as mortgage loans and credit counseling, and Native youth financial literacy classes to Pueblo residents and those in its surrounding communities,” Udall said.
During questioning, Udall asked Governor Zuni how Isleta Pueblo’s residents would finance their home loans without Tiwa. Governor Zuni stressed the important role Native CDFIs play in Indian Country, and noted that, without their services, Isleta Tribal members and their families would likely have no alternative. Traditional mortgage lenders are often reluctant to issue mortgages to borrowers living on trust land because such mortgages cannot easily be foreclosed.
Udall pressed BIA Director LaCounte, representing Indian Country’s lead agency within the Executive Branch, to commit to advocating for Native CDFIs in the administration’s next budget proposal. For the past three fiscal years, the administration has proposed to completely eliminate funding for the Native CDFI program.
“I can commit to attempting to do that,” LaCounte responded.
Udall also drew attention to the limitations of HUD’s Section 184 Program in financing to maintain traditional Pueblo homes in New Mexico, which can be over one hundred years old and often do not have running water or plumbing.
Assistant Secretary Kurtz committed his department to working with the committee to ensure that the Section 184 program adapts to Pueblo homeowners’ unique circumstances.
Lastly, Udall asked if HUD supports reauthorizing the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) to include all Native communities that currently benefit from its federal housing programs, including Native Hawaiians. NAHASDA’s authorization expired in 2013.
“We support the reauthorization of NAHASDA,” Kurtz responded.