“Friend of Housing Award” Goes to Elsie Meeks

First-Ever Native American Recipient of Award

South Dakota Housing Development Authority (SDHDA) awarded Elsie Meeks with the “Friend of Housing” award during SDHDA’s 25th Annual Housing Conference held earlier this week in Pierre. Ms. Meeks was honored for her dedication and contribution to affordable housing in South Dakota. She has used innovation and determination to ensure that all South Dakotans have access to safe and affordable housing.

“Elsie was chosen as the recipient of the Friend of Housing Award by being a true leader and by not being afraid to fight for what is right,” said Mark Lauseng, Executive Director of SDHDA. “She serves as a valuable resource to our state on a variety of housing related issues and is always up for a challenge.”

Meeks has had a career of “firsts” and a long string of innovative successes promoting affordable housing. She helped South Dakota make national history through the first ever low-income housing tax credit project to be financed on tribal land and she was the first Native American to serve on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In addition, Meeks also brought together key representatives from the South Dakota Housing Development Authority, Governor’s Office, Rural Development and the Department of Tribal Relations to form the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition to work together to ensure that housing programs effectively reach Native communities and increase Native homeownership rates.

Ms. Meeks’ career includes over 20 years of experience working to promote economic and community development first as the president/CEO of First Nations Oweesta Corporation and then as the state director of USDA Rural Development.

Even in her retirement, Ms. Meeks remains committed and dedicated to promoting affordable housing. She serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, executive committee member of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition, chairperson of the Board of Directors of Lakota Funds and a member of the Board of Directors of the Northwest Area Foundation.

The Friend of Housing Award was started 16 years ago to recognize individuals and/or companies who are instrumental in providing affordable housing in South Dakota. Annually, SDHDA accepts nominations for the award and announces the recipient at their annual housing conference.

Loan Office Serves Native Americans

As printed in the Argus Leader…

Juel Burnette left Wells Fargo & Co. last year after a 23-year career with a specific focus as the Sioux Falls branch manager of 1st Tribal Lending.

“We’re a mortgage company that’s focusing on providing home loans and homeownership opportunities to Native Americans on and off the reservation nationwide,” Burnette said.

Burnette wasn’t alone. The other three loan officers are former Wells Fargo employees, all of whom have years of experience working together in lending to Native Americans.

The office of 1st Tribal Lending, a division of Mid America Mortgage, is at 1300 W. 57th St.

“The beauty of this was our clientele came with us I think due to experience, so we didn’t have a big loss there,” said loan officer Eric Sprenkle. “The tribes, they reached out to us and wanted to continue to do business with us. They have a trust in us … because of that experience we have.”

The Sioux Falls branch of 1st Tribal Lending is the easternmost branch for the lender, which specializes in using the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program. Other branches are in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Oklahoma.

The program was created in 1992 as a way to remedy the lack of home loans to Native Americans.

“There weren’t a lot of lenders out there that were participating in bringing mortgage capital to Indian Country, specifically on the reservation,” Burnette said, “so this was the government’s way of trying to entice lenders to open up their doors.”

The program enables lenders to give loans for land held in tribal trusts and allows lenders to give loans not just to tribal members but also to tribes and tribal housing authorities.

“It’s unique in that way that it’s the only program that allows a non-individual to be the borrower,” Burnette said. “We’ve done several projects for tribes and tribal housing authorities, so they can provide homes to their tribal membership also. They typically do that to help those families that aren’t quite ready today or if they just want to build on their current rental stock they have or add to it.”

And Native Americans don’t need to live on tribal lands to take advantage of the program.

“It’s open up to the entire state of South Dakota, and there’s some misconception about that because a lot of lenders and tribal members think you have to be on the reservation in order use the program, and that’s not the case,” Sprenkle said. “If you’re a Native American here in Sioux Falls, you can utilize the program.

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