The US Department of Agriculture’s Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, Anne Hazlett visited the Pine Ridge Reservation to meet with Four Bands Community Fund, Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial, and other regional partners to discuss the launch of a pilot program to increase homeownership opportunities on tribal lands. Through the 502 Relending Pilot, USDA Rural Development is partnering with Four Bands and Mazaska, both Native community development financial institutions and active Coalition members, to deploy a total of $2,000,000 to eligible Native American homebuyers located in tribal communities of South Dakota and North Dakota. According to USDA, the CDFIs’ deep ties in local communities will help them to reach homebuyers more effectively than other lenders.

The Coalition is excited to see this new development and has been actively advocating for this model as a solution to increase access to USDA’s home loan programs for Native American families. Our efforts, led by our Policy Committee Co-chairpersons, JC Crawford and Sharon Vogel, have included engaging partners and policy makers in various meetings and briefings over the past four-plus years. By creating alliances and identifying champions, we continued to raise awareness of challenges and opportunities related to homeownership and Native American communities.

We’d like to express our gratitude especially to U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD), as well as U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) and U.S. Representative Kristi Noem (R-SD). The South Dakota delegation requested that USDA implement the pilot and recognized that while the 502 Direct Loan program is 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. We’d also like to recognize U.S. Senators John Hoeven (D-ND) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) who were instrumental in launching the pilot.

The Coalition will continue working with these legislators and USDA Rural Development as the pilot experiences great success. We anticipate that the 502 Relending Program will expand throughout Indian Country and hope it will be a model for creating greater access to other federal mortgage programs on tribal lands.

Thanks to the US Department of Agriculture for contributing photos of Ms. Hazlett’s visit!