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.