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.

Unique Partnership Expands Homebuyer Education in Native Communities

Over the past year, Homeownership Education Resource Organization (HERO), an affiliate of the South Dakota Housing Development Authority (SDHDA) that supports the delivery of unified homebuyer education throughout the state, has tripled its certified Native American partners to include six organizations that have served 310 aspiring homeowners. In addition, two more Native organizations are currently undergoing the HERO certification process.

According to Mary Stewart who coordinates HERO, “Once those two organizations complete their certification, we will have partners on the Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River, Rosebud, and Lake Traverse Reservations. We’re pleased to see this progression.”

Although HERO began outreach to Native communities in 2016, only two Native organizations became partners.

“After those first two, we weren’t getting much response. We had some off-reservation partners partially serving Native communities, but there was a disconnect,” says Stewart.

Stewart credits the recent increase in Native partners to a collaborative effort between SDHDA, the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition (Coalition), and Freddie Mac. With help from Freddie Mac, HERO, SDHDA, and the Coalition launched an outreach campaign in Native communities in 2018.

“The Coalition helped with contacts and connections. They were able to spark an interest,” says Stewart.

As a result, over 20 practitioners from Native organizations attended a HERO orientation session and then became certified homebuyer education instructors. Some of them have been approved as HERO partners, which opened up a reimbursement-based funding source to support the delivery of their homebuyer education classes.

“I love HERO because it allows us to enhance our homeownership services. It’s been a great way to leverage and grow our homebuyer readiness program,” said Sharon Vogel, Executive Director of the Cheyenne River Housing Authority.

Cheyenne River Housing Authority was one of the first Native organizations to become a HERO partner. Vogel explains that as a result of the partnership they have been able to rent a better training space more conducive to learning and provide graduates with incentives, which has increased retention rates and referrals.

In the coming year, HERO will continue its efforts to certify homebuyer educators and increase the number of partners in South Dakota’s Native communities.

“We’re glad to be playing a part in this initiative that is extending homebuyer education into Native communities,” said Simone Beaty, Product Development Director for Freddie Mac’s Single-Family Business.

As part of their Duty to Serve plan, Freddie Mac established a Memorandum of Understanding with HERO to expand its services to reservation-based organizations.

Coalition Advocates for Native Homeownership in Washington DC

During the National American Indian Housing Council’s 2018 Legislative Conference, March 5-7 in Washington, DC, the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition mobilized a group of advocates that engaged in dialogue with numerous congressional representatives and federal agencies. This year’s group of advocates demonstrated a diverse representation of reservation communities, and included Tribally Designated Housing Entities, Tribal Veterans Service Officers, and partners from Cheyenne River, Lower Brule, Rosebud, Sisseton, Standing Rock, and Yankton.

During the DC trip, we met with Tara Sweeney, Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Department of the Interior to discuss the Bureau of Indian Affairs residential lease, mortgage, and Title Status Report approval processes. We urged the Assistant Secretary to streamline these processes, especially the Land Title Records Offices, which are not designed to accommodate the pace of the residential real estate market.


Other highlights included:

Providing updates on the USDA 502 Relending Pilot, and advocating to make it a permanent program for Native communities nationwide. We shared progress on the 502 Relending Pilot, currently being implemented in South Dakota by Four Bands Community Fund and Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial, with USDA Rural Development, as well as staff from Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), Senator John Thune (R-SD), and Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), who were all instrumental in launching the pilot. Senator Hoeven even mentioned the 502 Relending Program in his address to the NAIHC Legislative Conference.

Meeting with the US Department of Veterans Affairs to discuss ways to streamline the Native American Direct Loan process in order to expand homeownership opportunities for Native American veterans on trust land. We proposed several policy recommendations that would expand outreach and assistance to Native veterans, design a loan packaging program, and pilot a relending demonstration, similar to the 502 Relending Pilot. We also advocated for these policies in our meeting with Senator Rounds’ Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs staff.

Sharing opportunities and challenges associated with Native homeownership with HUD Office of Native American Programs.We met with Deputy Assistant Secretary Heidi Frechette to advocate for solutions that would streamline processes and increase homeownership opportunities for Native Americans. Specifically, we discussed improving the implementation of HUD VASH vouchers, issues with the HUD Section 184 Indian Home Loan program, and BIA issues.

Meeting with Administration for Native Americans (ANA) Commissioner Jeannie Hovland and her staff to learning about how ANA’s programs could benefit the members of the Coalition.

Nearly 12,000 People Reached Through “Native Homeownership is Possible” Campaign

On November 5, 2018 the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition launched a week-long social media campaign designed to spread the message that “Native Homeownership is Possible” throughout Native communities in the state by utilizing the series of Native homeownership videos we produced. To help our stakeholders engage in the campaign, we developed a Social Media Toolkit with sample posts, a collection of shareable images, and hashtags.

We are pleased to announce that the campaign was incredibly successful! It gained momentum each day, and our message reached far and wide. Here’s what we accomplished:

  • Reached 11,869 people through Facebook posts.
  • Engaged 519 people through Facebook posts.
  • Drove 58 people to the site to seek out homeownership resources or watch additional videos.
  • Accumulated 453 views of the videos in the “Native Homeownership is Possible” series.

And some more great news… The content we published during the campaign will continue to have an impact in Native communities. As a result of the campaign, we seeded the idea of homeownership in nearly 12,000 minds. Not all of those people will act right away, but 58 people did take the first step on their homeownership journey by seeking out more information on our website. We can’t wait to see more and more Native families becoming homeowners!

Campaign Participants

The campaign was made possible by our stakeholders that mobilized to help spread the critical message that homeownership is possible in Native communities. We’d like to thank the following people and organizations for sharing and posting content to support a broader reach of the campaign’s messaging:

Juel Burnette

Chance Renville

CRHA Homebuyer Readiness

Andrew Boyd

Lisa Whitewing

Tony Wood

Dowell Caselli Smith

Northwest Area Foundation

GROW South Dakota

Enterprise Community Partners

Lakota Funds

Lakota Federal Credit Union

Homes are Possible, Inc.

Christine Sorensen

Ana Catches

Sweet Grass Consulting

Lesa Jarding

Coalition Reflects on Accomplishments and Re-Energizes for Year Ahead

On October 29, the Coalition held our 5th Annual Planning day, which was the day prior to the South Dakota Annual Housing Conference. During the planning day, we continued our tradition of reflecting on the past year, highlighting accomplishments, and planning for the year ahead. The day provided the opportunity for Coalition members to celebrate our work, explore future priorities, and re-energize for the future. The day’s agenda included:

Historical Timeline

Coalition members reviewed this historical timeline, which reflected key milestones in the Coalition’s development. These milestones include annual visits to tribal communities, homebuyer practitioner trainings, launching the construction internship program, the 502 re-lending pilot, and creating the veterans homeownership committee.

Download Timeline

Key Accomplishments

Jennifer Irving of Thunder Valley CDC facilitated our look at these accomplishments, including launching the membership drive, developing the Native Homeownership is Possible media campaign, and solidifying the Coalition’s data collection systems.

Strategic Directions

Coalition members had the opportunity to break out into small groups to explore strategic directions proposed by the executive committee:

  • Ensuring the Coalition’s sustainability
  • Building capacity for Native homeownership
  • Identifying outcomes and developing an impact tracking plan
  • Developing an effective and comprehensive communication plan

Tribal Leaders Handbook on Homeownership

Jason Adams of the Salish and Kootenai Housing Authority in Montana shared information on the Handbook, which was developed by the Center for Indian Country Development and Enterprise Community Partners.

Housing Needs Studies 

Sonny Hill of the Yankton Sioux Tribe and Joanna Donohoe provided an update on the two studies currently being completed with the support of the Coalition and the South Dakota Housing Development Authority.  Conducted by Big Water Consulting, the studies are focusing on homeownership needs of the Yankton and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes.

Construction Internship Program

Coalition members had the opportunity learn about 2018 construction internship efforts through a discussion with internship partners: Tawney Brunsch (Lakota Funds), Alissa Benoist (Four Bands Community Fund), Kenny Soderlin (Pine Ridge contractor), and Michael Patton (Pine Ridge intern).

Committee Meetings

Through in-person committee meetings, Coalition members had the chance to review their 2018 efforts, start planning 2019 milestones, and appoint (or re-appoint) committee chairs.  Proposed 2019 milestones are reflected here.  During their meeting, members of the Funding and Finance committee agreed to change the name of this committee to Coalition and Member Sustainability, to reflect their focus on long-term sustainability.


At the conclusion of the planning day, Coalition members noted their individual commitments to the Coalition.  These included:

  • Renew membership and become more active.
  • I commit to being a committee co-chair.
  • Become paid member.
  • Share social media resources with our media lists to promote the Coalition’s work.
  • I will remain committed to providing my time and energy to the goals and mission statement of the SDNHOC. My organization will become a member of SDNHOC. Thank you SDNHOC for all you do for the Indian country and native homeownership.
  • My commitment is to obtain knowledge and educate myself so I can be more committed in the future coalition.
  • Continue to represent my housing authority.
  • I am committed to participating in Coalition activities, committee meetings and promoting the work being done here to other partners nationally. Share Native Homeownership is possible campaign!
  • To continue ongoing work needed in our communities. Focus on needs for our people.

Native Homeownership Track at the South Dakota Annual Housing Conference

This year, the Coalition also continued our tradition of planning conference workshops focused on issues relating to Native homeownership.  These workshops enable our Coalition members, and other conference attendees, to dive deeper into topics impacting our work.  This year’s workshops covered:

  • Exploring New Mortgage Market Opportunities:  The Mortgage Lending Process on Trust Land
  • Homeownership Opportunities for Native Families: A Look at Subdivision Development Financing
  • Increasing Housing Stock in Native Communities: New Native-owned Construction Companies
  • Home Construction Options on Tribal Land

Coalition Launches Statewide Social Media Campaign

The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition is pleased to announce the launch of our “Native Homeownership is Possible” social media campaign. Through this campaign we hope to mobilize a force of stakeholders to amplify the message that ‘homeownership is possible’ within Native communities in South Dakota. During campaign week participating organizations will be sharing and posting content through social media outlets to ensure this critical message is being heard by Native families throughout the state.


Native Homeownership is Possible Campaign

November 5 – 9, 2018


Social Media Toolkit

We have developed an easy to follow toolkit that can be used as a guide for your social media efforts as you take part in the “Native Homeownership is Possible” campaign. Please feel free to use or modify the content presented in this toolkit to help us promote a strong message of Native homeownership.

Download Toolkit

Shareable Images

We have developed several social share cards for you to use with your favorite social media outlet. Just save the images to your computer or device and start sharing!

Amplifying Our Voice

To help us expand our collective effort, please also use the following hashtags in your social media posts:


Coalition Reveals Collective Impact Resulting from Three-Year Data Collection Initiative

During the Coalition’s Annual Planning Day, we presented the first data report from our ongoing data collection initiative, which began in 2016 with a desire to show the collective impact our member organizations are having on homeownership rates. Twenty-four organizations that provide homeownership training, assistance, and/or loans participated in the initiative.

The data, which was collected through a variety of methods, reflects loans closed, technical assistance provided, and classroom trainings offered from January 2017 through September 2018 by the participating organizations. The report highlights include:

  • 131 home loans totaling $7,064,300 were made to Native American families
  • Within those loans, $940,380 was provided in subsidies
  • A total of 4,997 hours of technical assistance were provided to 1,702 clients
  • 2,872 people attended a total of 488 classroom trainings

Other details included in the report were types of loans, land location and land status, types of lenders/packagers, and percentage of subsidies by type. In addition to this activity data the Coalition has implemented and annual activity report and data collection tool which highlights certified counseling activity, the types of trainings offered, partnerships, sources of subsidies, HERO certification, number of clients in loan pipelines, and the key impacts of participating in the Coalition.

This initial report is a brief preview into some of the data that the Coalition collects and reports on. In the future, more detailed reports will be available.

Download Report

Welcome Elaine Kennedy!

We are pleased to announce that we have hired a part-time Program Coordinator. Join us in welcoming Elaine Kennedy!

Elaine has a strong background in the Native American community development field, and some of you may have already met her while she was employed with Hunkpati Investments. Elaine will be supporting the Coalition with membership, data collection, and events, so you might be hearing from her soon.

A little more about Elaine…

Elaine Kennedy began working in the Native American community and economic development field in 2012 with Hunkpati Investments, a Native community development financial institution (CDFI) that served the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. During her time with Hunkpati she served in several different capacities, including business coach, loan officer, individual development account (IDA) program support, and the volunteer income tax assistance (VITA) site coordinator. Elaine holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, and an Associate of Science degree in Business Administration. In addition, she has obtained several certifications in various training programs and curricula, including Indianpreneurship, Workin’ with Tradition, SBA 8(a) Business Development, Building Native Communities: Financial Skills for Families, Pathways Home, and NeighborWorks Financial Coaching.

Construction Internship Program Prepares Tribal Members for Employment Opportunities

After piloting our Construction Internship Program in the Summer of 2017 on the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Reservations, the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition continued to work with partner organizations in these tribal communities to build on the successful pilot and solidify and strengthen the program during the Summer of 2018.

During our second year, the Coalition worked with more contractors and interns, and a significantly higher percentage of interns completed the program. In 2017, 23 students started the program, with 11 students completing (48%). In 2018, 33 students began the program, with 26 students completing (78%).  The 2018 program outcomes were compiled into a report that also includes intern success stories.

Download Report

In planning for the future, the Coalition plans to focus on the following:

Continue to offer internship on Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge.

The Coalition has developed strong partnerships on Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge, with a core of participating contractors in each community.  Looking to the future, the Coalitions plans to continue to offer the internship in these communities.

Expand to additional tribal communities in South Dakota.

A number of additional tribes have expressed interest in the internship, and the Coalition plans to reach out to potential sites and identify new sites by early 2019.

Pilot an administrative/financial management internship.

This internship could build the capacity of contractors, while providing valuable experience for business and financial management students.