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

Now Accepting Applications from Coalition Member Organizations for Mortgage and Small Business Relief

At the beginning of June, we launched the Native Homeownership Protection Plan, a program designed to channel financial support through our member organizations to homeowners and small businesses that are facing challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applications are now open and will continue to be accepted until funds are exhausted!

Program Guidelines

•  Coalition member organizations that are current on their membership dues can refer their clients to receive Native Homeownership Protection Plan funds. If you are not sure if you are current on your dues, please contact Kelsie Whiting at If you are not a member, but would like to become one, please visit to fill out our online membership application.

•  Coalition member organizations can refer clients to apply for funds if they: 1)are a Native homeowner or small business owner; and 2) have lost business revenue or have experienced a reduction or loss of income because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

•  Mortgage relief funds can be used for a mortgage payment, utilities payment, or housing related expenses (e.g., emergency repairs).

•  Small business assistance funds can be used for business rent or utilities, operating expenses, salaries, or COVID-related expenses.

How to Access Funds

Download and complete the simple two-part application. Part 1 is completed by the member organization and Part 2 by the homeowner or small business. Submit the completed application to the appropriate Native CDFI.

Download Application

Thank You!

We’d like to thank Four Bands Community Fund, Lakota Funds, and Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial for helping us administer these funds. And, we’d like to express our appreciation to an anonymous donor, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, South Dakota Community Foundation, and Wells Fargo for their generous support for the Native Homeownership Protection Plan.

Debra Phelps Becomes 5th Homeowner in Thunder Valley Regenerative Community

Although many things came to a halt with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, some aspects of life carried on. After nearly a year of hard work and dedication, Debra Phelps, a Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribal member and a Marine Corps veteran, became a first-time homeowner at the end of March, when she purchased a 3-bedroom, 1 ½ bath home in the Thunder Valley Regenerative Community on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. 

Although she hadn’t thought of it yet, Debra began preparing for homeownership a year before she actually began the mortgage process. As an employee of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (TVCDC), she was required to complete financial literacy classes.

“I’m up there in age, so I thought I knew everything about financials. I’m glad we had to do it, though. It makes you think about things you hadn’t before,” says Debra.

That was a turning point for her. She took some steps to increase her credit score, and also started talking to her three grown children about credit. Most importantly, she began transforming her financial habits. 

“I started paying attention to my spending and asking myself at the cash register if this was a need or a want,” she explains. 

As time went on, Debra began thinking about aging and her future. “I didn’t want to put the burden on my kids, so that is how I started thinking about homeownership.” 

Debra began working with her colleagues, Ana Garibaldi and Star Means who are part of the Housing and Homeownership Initiative at TVCDC, to become mortgage-ready, figure out the best-fit loan product, and identify potential subsidies. Ana and Star are also active participants on the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition’s Homebuyer Readiness Committee and Native Veterans Homeownership Committee. Debra says the most challenging thing along the way was the paperwork. 

“There is a lot to know – what you are reading, what it really means. It is a scary process if you don’t know what you are doing, but Ana and Star were there to help me through it,” says Debra. 

TVCDC leveraged partnerships with Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing and the South Dakota Housing Development Authority to help Debra secure over $50,000 in subsidies to offset loan processing fees and construction costs. Ana from TVCDC explains that the subsidies are a critical piece to making homeownership possible for many people, especially because construction costs in a rural area average about 20% higher than in urban areas.  

“We really appreciate our partners, because the subsidies are key to making homeownership affordable on the Pine Ridge Reservation. They help keep monthly mortgage, property tax, and insurance payments within a reasonable range for our homeowners,” says Ana. 

Debra says the most rewarding part of her homeownership journey was getting approved for her VA Home Loan, which was through First National Bank in Rapid City.

“I always wanted to own my own home, but I never thought I would or could. Just being able to qualify was good,” she says. 

Debra loves her new home, especially the high ceilings on the first floor, natural light, and mud room that is really great for her two dogs. She is still getting used to the idea of being a homeowner, though.

“Sometimes when I turn on the TV, I worry about being too loud. I’ve lived in apartments my whole life, and I forget that I’m in my own home and I can be as loud as I want,” she laughs. 

Debra looks forward to helping her children become homeowners when they are ready. In the meantime, she continues to provide guidance on credit and spending. 

“This was another thing I was able to experience before them, so I can help them with it when they go through it,” she says.  

COVID-19 Resources

The Coalition has compiled the following resources to help our member organizations navigate the impacts of COVID-19. We’ll keep updating this list as more resources become available, so check back regularly.

Webinar: Launching the Native Homeownership Protection Plan

Recognizing the economic impacts of COVID-19 on our Coalition members and the communities you serve, the SD Native Homeownership Coalition has raised funds for our “Native Homeownership Protection Plan” (NHPP). The purpose of this funding is to:

  • Provide assistance to Native homeowners experiencing difficulties in making mortgage loan payments, paying for utilities or covering other emergency homeownership-related costs.
  • Support small business clients, in order to ensure that they can pay on-going operating expenses, including rent and salaries.

Download PPT Slides

Mortgage and Housing Assistance During the Coronavirus National Emergency

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) , and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) partnered to launch a new mortgage and housing assistance website to help homeowners and renters during the coronavirus pandemic. The site provides information about mortgage relief options, protection for renters, avoiding scams, and mortgage basics.

View Site

Webinar: Preventing COVID-19 Foreclosures

On Tuesday, April 28, 2020, we hosted a webinar to explore how homeownership practitioners can support clients facing difficulties making regular monthly mortgage payments due to the impacts of COVID-19. We looked at key terms related to payment challenges, including forbearance, loss mitigation, and loan modification.

Download PPT Slides

Webinar: COVID-19 Responses, Concerns, and Needs

On Thursday, April 9, 2020, the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition hosted an information-sharing webinar with our members to learn about the impact of COVID-19 in different communities across the state.

Download PPT Slides

SD Governor’s Office of Economic Development

The South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development has published a COVID-19 page that includes information on Governor Noem’s Small Business Relief Fund, other COVID-19 resources, SBA funding, and the Paycheck Protection Program.

Learn More

SD Housing Development Authority

The SD Housing Development Authority is encouraging struggling homeowners to reach out to their loan servicers. Homeowners who have mortgages backed by the federal government are provided protections through the CARES Act.

Read Article

USDA Rural Development 

USDA Rural Development has taken a number of immediate actions to help rural residents, businesses, and communities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Their April 8th stakeholder announcement outlines several opportunities for immediate relief in their guaranteed loan, rural housing service (single-family and multi-family housing), rural utilities service, and rural business-cooperative service programs.

April 8th Stakeholder AnnouncementApril 15th Stakeholder Announcement


HUD has published several COVID-19 resources and fact sheets and several lender letters that outline topics related to modified application requirements, appraisals, and loss mitigation options for the HUD 184 program.

Learn More

US Department of Veterans Affairs

The US Department of Veterans Affairs published a circular describing extended relief under the CARES Act for those affected by COVID-19, including eligibility, forbearance, credit reporting, exiting forbearance, and foreclosure moratorium.

Learn More

NDN Collective’s COVID-19 Response Project

The NDN Collective’s COVID-19 Response Project is designed to provide immediate relief to some of the most underserved communities in the country.

Learn More

Bush Foundation

The Bush Foundation has compiled a list of COVID-19 resources in the region for nonprofits, businesses, and individuals.

Learn More

Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has published several tips to help consumers stay on top of their finances during the pandemic.

Learn More

To learn more about coronavirus mortgage relief options under the CARES Act, watch the CFPB’s brief video titled, “CARES Act Mortgage Forbearance: What You Need to Know.”

Watch Now

Enterprise Community Partners

Enterprise will be providing regular updates on resources for residents and housing providers on their COVID-19 Resources: Rural & Native American Program page.

Learn More

Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Center for Indian Country Development

The Center for Indian Country Development created a web page that is meant to direct tribal governments and tribal businesses (businesses owned by tribal members and tribally owned entities) to grants, loans, and other resources to respond to the economic consequences of the coronavirus.

Learn More

COVID-19 and Indian Country

A survey by the Center for Indian Country Development shows the coronavirus pandemic exposes tribal economies and governments to economic hardship.

Learn More

Coalition Convenes Native American Contractors in Effort to Increase Reservation Housing Stock

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), about 16 percent of households on Indian reservations are overcrowded, and an additional 68,000 housing units are needed to alleviate this burden. Housing in Indian Country is a complex and costly problem, but we are taking a grass roots approach to reverse long-standing issues on our state’s reservations.

“A couple years ago, we convened building contractors that were doing work on reservations and asked them about the major challenges they were facing. Since then, we’ve been implementing multi-faceted solutions designed to build the capacity of Native American building contractors, strengthen the construction industry on our state’s nine reservations, and to ultimately increase the housing stock available to Native American families,” says Tawney Brunsch, a member of the Coalition’s Executive Committee.

This year, at our 3rd annual Contractor’s Workshop the 84 attendees learned about federal and state programs that could put them at an advantage in the marketplace and grow their business. They also discussed the possibility of starting a Native American chapter of the South Dakota Homebuilders Association, which would unify their industry and provide opportunities for peer learning.

Daniel Kirk from Sisseton, South Dakota, started his company, Arrow Construction, a couple of years ago and now has four employees. He said he came to the workshop because he wants to improve the standard of living for his people.

“It’s been awesome to meet up with other contractors – talking about maybe teaming up instead of fighting,” said Kirk.

Kirk and the other building contractors at the workshop received professional instruction and assistance in developing a capability statement, a standard industry tool that is used to market construction firms. At the end of the workshop, they had the opportunity to pitch their firms to several different agencies seeking residential building contractors for upcoming projects.

“Meeting people here will have a big benefit with how I do business,” said Kirk. He believes the connections he made at the workshop are the most valuable thing he will bring back home with him.

Kirk first became involved with the Coalition through our Construction Internship Program last summer. He managed five interns who completed 400 hours of on-site work experience as well as a series of financial literacy trainings.

“The financial literacy was really cool. It changed everyone’s spending habits a little bit,” says Kirk.

During this year’s workshop, Kirk and two of his employees who were interns this summer were recognized along with others who also completed the Construction Internship Program.

“Building a qualified workforce and strengthening the Native American construction industry are foundational steps to making sure there is adequate housing and homeownership opportunities on reservations. We know this will be a long-term effort, but we are pleased with the progress we’ve made in the few short years we’ve been chipping away at some of these challenges,” says Brunsch.

Groups Gather to Advocate for Affordable Housing

Homes for South Dakota, a coalition of approximately 30 nonprofit, public, and private entities, gathered in the rotunda at the State Capitol to raise awareness of the need for affordable housing across the state and to advocate for a dedicated source of revenue for the South Dakota Housing Opportunity Fund (HOF).

During a luncheon, participants called legislative attention to the HOF, a program that has awarded $16.2 million in grant funding to create affordable housing for over 2,000 families since 2013. Currently, funding for HOF comes from budget surpluses, but Homes for South Dakota members argue that a dedicated source of revenue is needed to strategically implement long-term planning and leverage investments for affordable housing projects.

“HOF dollars have been leveraged with other sources time and again to create affordable housing options for families in every county of the state,” says Tawney Brunsch, Executive Committee Member of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition, an organization that exhibited at the Homes for South Dakota day at the Capitol.

With rental and real estate prices on the rise, nearly a quarter of all South Dakotans have become housing cost-burdened, meaning that more than 30% of their income is being spent on housing and utilities. These households have little money left for other basic necessities, such as food, medical care, and transportation.

“We have many low- to moderate-income families whose incomes can’t keep up with the increasing housing costs. HOF has been combined with federal funding and private financing to build affordable rental and homeownership units – and even provide down payment assistance in some cases. It is a proven successful solution,” says Brunsch.

Housing Opportunity Fund Case Studies

Developed for the Homes for South Dakota Day at the Capitol, this set of case studies highlights how South Dakota’s Housing Opportunity Fund is creating homeownership opportunities in tribal communities.

Download Case Studies

Pilot Program Increases Rates of Mortgage Lending on South Dakota’s Reservations

During her address at the National American Indian Housing Council’s Legal Symposium, Tawney Brunsch, Executive Committee Member of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition, reported that through a partnership with USDA Rural Development, two Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs) deployed eight home loans totaling nearly $1 million in two reservation communities during the past couple of months – more than was deployed in the previous nine years prior to the start of the program.

USDA Rural Development officially launched the 502 Direct Native CDFI Relending Pilot Program last summer as a way to increase homeownership opportunities on tribal lands, and approval of funds for deployment began in October this year.

“The 502 Relending Pilot has been a huge success! USDA, the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition, and the Native CDFIs have worked together to efficiently expand access to affordable mortgage capital to Native borrowers on trust land,” said Brunsch.

In just two months, the two Native CDFIs participating in the pilot, Four Bands Community Fund on the Cheyenne River Reservation and Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial on the Pine Ridge Reservation, have deployed approximately 50% of the $2 million in loan capital that was allocated to the pilot program and are currently working with 24 more families who are applying for the USDA 502 Direct Loan.

“This deployment rate shows that Native CDFIs are able to leverage their strong relationships within the communities they serve and their expertise in mortgage lending processes on tribal trust lands to accelerate homeownership rates on Indian reservations,” explains Brunsch.

The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition began advocating for the pilot program in 2015 and worked closely with U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD), U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), and U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND). In March 2018, the South Dakota congressional delegation requested that USDA implement the pilot and recognized that while the 502 Direct Loan program was highly utilized, only 23 of the 7,187 loans made through the program in fiscal year 2017 went to Native American families on tribal lands.

Brunsch says the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition’s next step will be continued advocacy with the intention of making the pilot permanent so that it can be expanded to other Native communities throughout the country.

“We appreciate the leadership of our Senators who made this pilot possible and are excited to partner with the National American Indian Housing Council, National Congress of American Indians, and the Native CDFI Network to support the replication of this successful model in all Native communities,” Brunsch said.

Coalition Releases Two Assessment Reports

We recently commissioned two capacity-building needs assessments — one to identify specific capacity-building needs of housing practitioners and other Coalition members, the other to evaluate the barriers and opportunities for lenders providing mortgage financing on tribal trust land. We are pleased to announce the release of those assessment reports today.


Practitioner Assessment

The practitioner assessment was designed to address challenges faced by four key types of stakeholders in the homeownership process: 1) housing practitioners and their organizations, 2) potential homeowners, 3) the Coalition and its members, and 4) tribal leadership, as well as potential solutions to these challenges.

Download Practitioner Report

Lender Assessment

To assess the challenges associated with lending on trust land in South Dakota and to learn what lenders need in order to increase trust-land mortgage lending, this project surveyed lenders working across the state. Survey questions were aimed at developing a better understanding of the specific factors that affect applications for mortgages on Indian trust lands, mortgage origination on trust lands, institutional knowledge about lending on trust lands, and organizational practices that facilitate such lending.

Download Lender Report

First-of-their-kind Studies Create Pathways to Homeownership for Native American Veterans

Three tribal housing entities in South Dakota – Cheyenne River Housing Authority, Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Housing, and Sisseton Wahpeton Housing Authority – recently completed veterans housing needs and homeownership studies in cooperation with their Tribal Veterans Service Officers (TVSOs) in order to identify the housing and service issues most important to veterans on each reservation and to be able to develop tailored programs to help address these collective concerns. It is the first time studies of this caliber have been conducted, and the undertaking is already manifesting results in a number of ways.

“Everything we do is data driven, and it’s hard to find numbers on the reservation. We always ran into the same problem with lack of data,” explains Robert Dunsmore, Tribal Veterans Service Officer (TVSO) for Cheyenne River.

Dunsmore says having their study on hand helped them win a grant award that will support veterans housing projects. “Now we can show the need,” he says.

Echoing Dunsmore, Geri Opsal, the TVSO for Sisseton, expresses difficulty in accessing funding for veterans’ programs because of a lack of data.

“We have to collect data. It’s going to back us up on any endeavor we take on,” she says.

Data published in the studies was collected on each of the reservations through a survey and a focus group involving veterans from a number of different service periods. Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director of Lakota Funds, who participated in the Pine Ridge data collection efforts, says the focus group was especially beneficial.

“It was solution-oriented discussion for things we could do collaboratively,” she says. “And through some of the connections we made at that meeting, we had a veteran close a home loan last week.”

The Pine Ridge study inspired the development of and helped obtain essential funding to launch Lakota Funds’ new matched savings program designed provide down payment assistance for Native American veterans. One participant has already enrolled in the program.

The matched savings program will also provide one-on-one assistance to help Native veterans through the homeownership process, something that Kevin Klingbeil, Managing Director at Big Water Consulting (the firm that conducted the studies), says is a critical finding in the studies.

“One of the key things that has helped Native vets be successful in purchasing a home was having someone who cared and who helped walk them through the process and the paperwork,” says Klingbeil.

Opsal says the Veteran’s Affairs Native American Direct Loan (NADL) is a great mortgage product because it has such a low interest rate, but the process can be arduous and people need encouragement to keep moving through it.  She hopes to utilize the studies to inform policies that will streamline the NADL process.

Dunsmore sees the baseline data provided in the studies as a beginning. “We’re moving in the right direction. It’s time to start showing things – not talking about it. Once we start showing what we can do, better things will come.”

Klingbeil says, “We treated this project as the first of its kind so that we could create a model survey instrument. Then other groups or tribes could use it going forward.”

The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition commissioned the studies with funding support from Enterprise Community Partners and plans to launch a second round of studies sometime in the future. In the near-term, the Coalition will provide a platform for collaboration to explore strategies that will increase homeownership rates for Native American veterans throughout the state.

“We’re creating this baseline through the Coalition, and we’re going to build from that. One of our immediate actions will be collaborating with other TVSOs,” says Opsal.


Take a Look at the Studies!

Download each reservation’s report by clicking below.

Cheyenne River Pine Ridge Sisseton


Download a cumulative report of all three reservations by clicking below.

Cumulative Report

Eighth Renter Transitions to Homeowner in Eagle Nest Housing Development

In the midst of an extreme housing shortage, it is estimated that the Pine Ridge Reservation needs an additional 4,000 homes to provide adequate housing for residents. With a virtually nonexistent residential real estate market, families are commonly on the waiting list for low-income tribal housing for two-plus years. In the meantime, they are “doubling up” or even “tripling up” – terms used to describe multiple families living in a single-family residence – so that their basic needs for shelter are met. As a situation that has spanned several generations, this has become a way of life on the Reservation.

“A lot of people don’t know anything about homeownership or mortgages. We hear about homeowners in the city, but not here,” explains Carrie Sitting Up who rented a home in the Eagle Nest Housing Development, located in the northeast corner of the Reservation.

However, that is beginning to change. As the first Native American Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) project in the country, Eagle Nest has provided affordable rental housing through its 30 single-family units since 1999. When the tax credit agreements reached maturity a few years ago, Lakota Funds, a nonprofit organization who developed the housing track and also a member of the Coalition, began converting the rental units into privately-owned homes.

Since then, they have been working with tenants to prepare them for homeownership by providing financial coaching, homebuyer readiness training, and other resources. During the Coalition’s 2017 Tour & Convening, we visited Eagle Nest and saw first-hand the progress they were making. The first sale in Eagle Nest closed in late 2017, and to date eight homes have sold!

Seeing another tenant become a homeowner inspired Sitting Up. She says, “I liked the outcome of her home. I didn’t think it was possible until I talked to her about it, and it gave me some motivation.”

Sitting Up’s homeownership journey began with getting her finances in order. She says this took some time, because she needed to clear up some debt. But, she was able to utilize Lakota Fund’s Credit Builder Loan to help her with this step.

“It was a beautiful experience, because I was able to figure out my finances on my own and take care of myself,” says Sitting Up.

She was moving through the loan application process with Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial, a community loan fund in Pine Ridge and also a Coalition member, when her father passed away in September 2018. After a time of grieving, she says she gathered herself together and sealed the deal.

She reflects on her loan signing, “I really cried, because my dad would have been so proud of me.”

As the first in her family to become a homeowner, Sitting Up says, “I feel like I won a grand prize buying this home.”

Sitting Up rolled several improvements – new windows, doors, siding, and roof – into the purchase of her home. There were other minor repairs, but she wanted to fix those on her own so she could experience the real meaning of homeownership. That is a decision that also kept her mortgage payment, which is comparable to her rental payment, more affordable.

“I’m still learning. Owning a home is a big deal, and I have experienced a bit of a struggle. But I knew I had to do it, because it was important to me,” says Sitting Up. Although it wasn’t easy, she says homeownership has given her structure in her life and it has been a positive step.

Sitting Up is planning a house warming party to celebrate her one-year anniversary of homeownership this Fall. She hopes her story will inspire other people to achieve homeownership.

“I love my home, and I’m really happy living here,” she says.