Welcome Elias!

Welcome Elias!

Elias Mendoza joins the Coalition as Program Director. 

The Coalition is pleased to announce we have hired Elias Mendoza (Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe) as our Program Director. This is a major step in our journey to become an independent nonprofit organization. As the Coalition’s first full-time staff person, Elias will guide the organizational development process and interface with our five working committees. 

“I am thrilled to be a part of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition and look forward to working with other passionate people across the state to create a clear path to homeownership for our Native families,” says Elias.

Elias became familiar with the Coalition by serving as a partner site for our Construction Internship Program in 2019. At the time, he was the Program Director for Sisseton-Wahpeton’s 477/Employment Training Service Center, a unique program that co-mingles the Tribe’s adult education, workforce development, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) programs to leverage resources and maximize effectiveness. By working together with the Sisseton-Wahpeton Housing Authority, Elias and his team brought five interns through the Construction Internship Program with a 100% completion rate. 

When he saw the announcement for our Program Director position a few months ago, he thought, “This is something I know I can put all of my passion into. This is something I would love to see grow.” 

Elias is looking forward to leveraging his skills and experience to build bridges between tribal, state, and federal agencies in his new role. He is also passionate about creating pathways to homeownership for Native people. Elias brings over 10 years of experience in executive support, staff training and development, and project planning to the Coalition.

Although born in Los Angeles, California, he spent much of his early childhood on and around the Lake Traverse Reservation. After obtaining his Bachelor’s degree in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences from North Dakota State University and working in several metropolitan areas across the country, in 2012, Elias finally moved back home to Sisseton where he currently resides. 


Coalition Celebrates Upward Trend in Native American Homeownership During National Homeownership Month

In recognition of June as National Homeownership Month, the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition hosted a virtual celebration where nearly 40 stakeholders from national, state, and tribal levels gathered to share their successes in creating homeownership opportunities for Native American families. The Coalition is also supporting several member organizations as they host local homeownership celebrations throughout the state by providing small housewarming gifts for approximately 100 Native American homeowners.

During the virtual celebration, the Coalition announced they have hired Elias Mendoza (Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe) as the Program Director. This is a major step in the Coalition’s journey to become an independent nonprofit organization. As the Coalition’s first full-time staff person, Mendoza will guide the organizational development process and interface with the Coalition’s working committees.

“I am thrilled to be a part of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition and look forward to working with other passionate people across the state to create a clear path to homeownership for our Native families,” says Mendoza.

Also during the event, the Coalition revealed new data showing tremendous growth in Native American homeownership in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2019 to 2020, Coalition member organizations reported a 126% increase in home loan volume as well as an 80% increase in the number of new homeowners. Nearly all loans closed (94%) were on Indian reservations. There was also an upward trend in funding support for Native organizations from the South Dakota Housing Development Authority’s Homeownership Education Resource Organization (HERO) program. A copy of the full data report can be viewed here.

“The growth in Native American homeownership demonstrates just how hard our partners and practitioners are working in Native communities. We have accomplishments on so many levels to celebrate,” says Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director of Lakota Funds, which serves as the fiscal agent for the Coalition.

Several recent developments are creating a favorable outlook on the policy horizon for Native American homeownership, which will support further growth in this sector. The U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Housing held their first hearing of the year on “Housing for Native Americans: Review of Federal Programs, Barriers, and Opportunities” where Eric Shepherd, Executive Director of Sisseton Wahpeton Housing Authority, and also Coalition member, testified. This was the first time the Senate Housing Subcommittee held a hearing on Indian housing issues in over a decade! In addition, the hearing illuminated the strong, bi-partisanship collaboration between Chairman Tina Smith (D-MN) and Ranking Minority Member Mike Rounds (R-SD). Furthermore, the Coalition is participating in the South Dakota Legislature’s 2021 Interim Study on Workforce Housing Needs to examine challenges and opportunities in housing for low- and moderate-income individuals and families throughout the state.

“It is great to see Native American representation in these policy discussions. We’re moving in the right direction to create an inclusive economy,” says Mendoza.


Native Homeownership Protection Program Launches Phase II!

Recognizing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Native homebuyers in South Dakota, the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition has developed our Native Homeownership Protection Program (NHPP).

Program Overview

Through the first phase of the NHPP, we have provided relief funds to qualified homeowners and small business clients impacted by COVID-19. Through Phase II, we are assisting member organizations in providing foreclosure prevention/post purchase coaching, education, and support to their clients. This support can include:

  • Conducting one-on-one coaching sessions with clients experiencing difficulties in making mortgage payments,
  • Assisting mortgage clients in reaching out to their lenders to negotiate loan modifications,
  • Teaching post-purchase education classes,
  • Providing post-purchase coaching, and
  • Assisting clients in accessing available resources to offset the economic impacts of the pandemic.

NHPP – Phase II assistance will be provided on a reimbursement basis at the rate of $150/client for one-on-one support or group/classroom education that was delivered beginning July 1, 2020.

Download Application

Eligibility Guidelines

To participate in the Coalition’s NHPP – Phase II program, organizations must:

  • Be a member of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition (To get current on membership dues or to become a new member, go to sdnativehomeownershipcoalition.org/joinus.)
  • Be current on Coalition data reporting requirements
  • Agree to submit a monthly report/reimbursement request

Steps to Participate in the NHPP – Phase II

Complete a brief NHPP – Phase II application.

Attend virtual program orientation session.

Provide foreclosure prevention/post purchase support to clients.

Submit monthly grant reimbursement request forms.

Download Application

Completed applications can be submitted via email to Leslie Newman at leslie@7sistersconsulting.com.


Thank you to our program sponsor!


We’re Hiring!

We are currently seeking to fill a Program Director position.

After working as an informal coalition for the past seven years, we are now working towards becoming an independent, stand-alone organization. We have created a new staff position to support and manage this transition.

This role is for you if you…

  • Are committed to increasing homeownership opportunities for Native families in SD;
  • Would like to support our Coalition’s transition from an informal coalition to an independent, stand-alone organization;
  • Are a self-starter, who thrives working on your own;
  • Are a bridge-builder, who can support connections between member organizations;
  • Are comfortable working remotely;
  • Have strong writing and communication skills;
  • Have experience in affordable homeownership or community development; and
  • Have a track record of moving ideas into action.

Download Full Job Description

To Apply

Please send a cover letter and resume by April 16, 2021 to:

Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director
Lakota Funds
PO Box 340
Kyle, SD  57752

Email: tbrunsch@lakotafunds.org


Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) Hosts Listening Session on VA Native American Direct Home Loan Reform

Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) and the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition held a listening session recently as part of the Senator’s efforts to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Native American Direct Loan (NADL) program. In addition to participation from Senator Rounds, his staff, and Coalition members, the listening session featured testimonies about the NADL home loan process from several Native American veterans.

During the session, Senator Rounds told participants, “We need to fix the NADL program so it actually benefits our Native Americans in South Dakota.”

“Native veterans shouldn’t have to go to battle to get an NADL mortgage,” said Geri Opsal, Co-Chair of the Coalition’s Veteran’s Homeownership Committee and Tribal Veterans Service Officer for the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. “They should have the same access to their VA benefit as any other veteran applying for a VA guarantee loan off the reservation.”

“We really appreciate Senators Rounds’ leadership on this issue,” said Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director of Lakota Funds. “During our discussions, you could tell he really understood how important it is for Native veterans to have ‘boots on the ground’ to help them through the mortgage lending process.”

With an average of only 20 NADL applications being approved nationwide each year, Senator Rounds has engaged the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to explore solutions that would provide Native American veterans with meaningful access to the benefits they have earned. Those efforts included a request to the Government Accountability Office to conduct a thorough review of the NADL program, which will be a crucial step toward systemic change.


Coalition Members Discuss Native American Homeownership on Freddie Mac Podcast

During the Freddie Mac Home Starts Here podcast, James Cromartie from Freddie Mac (a Tiospaye Member) and Tawney Brunsch (Executive Committee member) discuss the realities of homeownership. They outline, not only the challenges, but also the exciting headway that is being made to increase homeownership opportunities in Native communities.

Listen Now

Video by Senator Thune Describes Great Success of 502 Relending Pilot

During the 2020 OFN Virtual Conference, Senator John Thune (SD-R) shared with conference attendees how  the 502 Relending Pilot is creating homeownership opportunities in Indian Country.

Thank you Senator John Thune for championing the USDA 502 relending demonstration program with the Native CDFIs in South Dakota and for supporting the work of CDFIs nationwide. Watch the video below for a personal message from Senator Thune to Opportunity Finance Network virtual conference attendees!


A Veterans Day Celebration: Native American Veteran Becomes Lakota Federal Credit Union’s First Mortgage Client

With homeownership rates hitting a 12-year high despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Norman Rogers, a U.S. Navy veteran, is celebrating this major milestone alongside many others across the nation. Rogers is the first to close a mortgage loan from the Lakota Federal Credit Union, the only federally insured depository institution on the Pine Ridge Reservation – and also a Coalition member organization.

“The housing shortage is something that impacts so many people here on the Reservation. We believe that homeownership is a viable solution, and we are excited to officially launch our mortgage product to support more families in achieving their homeownership dreams,” said Shayna Ferguson, Branch Manager of the Lakota Federal Credit Union.

Rogers and his wife Eunice care for their 16-year-old grandson, and that was the primary motivating factor in pursuing homeownership after renting for 55 years.

“Paying rent for all those years, we could have owned three houses by now,” says Rogers. Even so, he is satisfied knowing that he is providing his family with a safe place to call home, even beyond his lifetime.

Many first-time homeowners on the Reservation are building assets that will be passed onto future generations, a strategy Tawney Brunsch, Board Chair of the Lakota Federal Credit Union and Executive Director of Lakota Funds, says is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty.

“Our approach to mortgage lending entails more than the immediate need of safe and affordable housing. We are also working on a longer-term strategy that will position our children and grandchildren to be better off financially,” says Brunsch.

Ferguson and Brunsch regularly collaborate to leverage each other’s programs and provide a more impactful experience for their clients. Rogers’ homeownership journey was no exception. Through their partnership and networks, Rogers was able to tap into over $20,000 in subsidies to improve the home’s energy efficiency and offset his mortgage. By working with Lakota Funds, Rogers completed a homebuyer education course and participated in matched savings programs to multiply his down payment. The Housing Assistance Council’s Affordable Housing for Rural Veterans initiative, which is supported by the Home Depot Foundation, provided funding for a new roof, windows, and doors on Rogers’ home, which have reduced his utility costs.

“The great thing about this is that Norman immediately had a substantial amount of equity built into his home,” says Brunsch. “For people on a fixed income, like many of our Reservation families, this provides more flexibility and options in how they handle financial emergencies, should they ever come up in the future.”

As Rogers reflects on his major life events – military service, a successful career in education, establishing schools, obtaining accreditation for Oglala Lakota College, sitting on several school boards – he comes back to a moment in 1956 when he was only one of seven Native American students to graduate Rapid City High School.

“I realized I had a lot more opportunity because I lived in Rapid City. Reservations do not have the same opportunities surrounding work and school as off reservation communities. I saw that back then and I thought, ‘I can make a difference.’ I enjoyed working with kids. Our schools had really low education levels and I fought for something better. I wanted to serve the community and the kids in the community,” he says.

More than a half century later, Rogers is still serving the community. He is paving the road to homeownership for others to follow.

“People like Norman are examples for what is truly possible. He may not know it, but he is inspiring his family members, neighbors, and even our community leaders to achieve more,” says Ferguson, “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this year’s Veteran’s Day.”


Coalition Members Partner to Deploy COVID-19 Housing Relief Funds

Three Native American nonprofit organizations – Four Bands Community Fund, Lakota Funds, and Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial – have been designated as partners in the SD CARES Housing Assistance Program (SDCHAP) to provide up to $1,500 in rental, mortgage, or utility assistance to families that have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The South Dakota Housing Development Authority (SDHDA) was awarded $10 million by the State of South Dakota to launch and administer SDCHAP.

“Knowing that low-income and minority communities have been hardest hit by the pandemic, we are grateful that the South Dakota Housing Development Authority has actively engaged Native American organizations to ensure funds are directed where they are needed most,” says Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director of Lakota Funds.

SDHDA opened the online SDCHAP application on October 22, 2020 and will be accepting applications until December 18, 2020, or sooner if funds are expended. To provide assistance with families that don’t have reliable internet access and to help process applications, SDHDA has partnered with a total of 11 organizations, just under a third of which are located on Indian reservations.

“Since COVID hit, we have seen financial burdens manifest in different ways. We can really help a lot of people with this program and are glad to be a part of it,” says Colleen Steele, Executive Director of Mazaska.

The SDCHAP application can be found at sdcareshousingassistance.com. Four Bands is assisting applicants in Dewey, Ziebach, Wallworth, Corson, Hughes, Stanley, Buffalo, and Brule Counties. Lakota Funds is supporting applicants in Oglala Lakota, Jackson and Bennett Counties. Mazaska is covering Oglala Lakota, Jackson, Bennett, Fall River, Pennington, Meade, Lawrence, Todd, and Custer Counties.

All three Native organizations and SDHDA are members of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition and have been working collaboratively in various capacities over the past several years to increase homeownership opportunities for Native Americans throughout the state.

“All of the program partners are dedicated to making their communities a better place, and this is an opportunity to preserve progress on so many different levels. There is power in partnerships,” says Lakota Vogel, Executive Director of Four Bands.


Senator Rounds Updates Coalition about Progress Toward Increasing Access to Mortgages for Native American Veterans

Today, Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) provided an update letter to the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition on his reformation efforts of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Native American Direct Loan (NADL) program. Although the NADL program is intended to provide mortgage financing for Native American veterans living in reservation communities, levels of participation have historically been very low.

Earlier this month, Rounds, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC), along with SVAC Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-MT), called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the NADL program. The Senators requested the evaluation of the NADL program out of concern that it is not effectively serving Native American veterans. This request is a critical step towards programmatic improvements through legislative or other means.

“It’s been a long-time coming but thanks to Senator Rounds’ leadership, we are finally starting to see some progress with reforming the VA’s Native American Direct Loan program,” says Robert Dunsmore, Tribal Veteran Service Officer for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and also the Co-Chair of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition’s Native Veterans Homeownership Committee.

Over the past several months, Rounds and his staff have met with VA officials and several tribal communities to gain a thorough understanding of the challenges within the NADL program. During this time, they have also worked collaboratively with the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition’s Native Veterans Homeownership Committee to explore potential solutions that would result in higher rates of homeownership for Native American veterans.

“We appreciate the time Senator Rounds and his staff have taken to come here to the Lake Traverse Reservation to see the homes we have built and hear about our concerns. Our veterans deserve to be homeowners, especially after serving our country in higher numbers than any other ethnic group in America,” says Geri Opsal, Tribal Veteran Service Officer for the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and also Co-Chair of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition’s Native Veterans Homeownership Committee.

Click below to download and read the letter from Senator Rounds to the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition.

Read Letter