Home On The 'Rez'
In the past, the trust status of reservations, prohibiting the sale of land outside the tribe, made a home on the reservation an unsafe investment for banks. If the borrower defaulted, the bank was unable to foreclose on the property. Employment and the legal structure to allow mortgages formerly were impediments to reservation Indians.
Indian gaming has changed that status. Tribes are educating members about financing and helping them with credit problems which formerly took up to three years through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Gaming has also lessened the dependence of tribal members on the BIA – in some Native educational circles known as the “big tit to the Indian world.”
“Tribal members who qualified as low-income could get on a long waiting list for subsidized cookie-cutter housing built by the BIA. Those who did not qualify were relegated to trailers unless they had enough cash to for pay for construction.”
Shelia Harris, director of the Arizona Department of Housing, which is helping to funnel money and resources to tribes said, “People finally understood the way the BIA did things would never change. So we had to figure out how to take the money we have and do more with it.”
Gaming has created jobs not only on the reservations but also in the public sector through tribal sponsored educational and job training programs. These newly employed people are making money. They want to buy their own homes and invest in the community. Arizona Governor, Janet Napolitano has formed a Tribal Housing Task Force to work on ways to increase reservation housing.
Serena Norris, a business manager with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation Saddleback Communications is the first in her community to build a home using the new mortgage guarantee program. Her three bedroom, 2 and a half bath home cost $90,000 to build. The federal government guarantees the mortgage. If Norris fails to pay the mortgage, the bank can foreclose and the tribe can buy the house.
On the Navajo reservation, four and a half years of negotiations has resulted in allowing the Navajo Housing Authority to guarantee loans. “We are taking what American people enjoy and bringing it to the reservation,” said Chester Carl, chairman and executive officer of the Navajo Housing Authority, “We’re in the process of closing the first loan”.
The White Mountain Apache Tribe was the first in the nation to issue tax-exempt bonds for housing. The tribe used block-grant money from the federal government to leverage the bonds paying $900,000 in fees said A.J. Yazzie, a financial consultant for the tribe. It has raised $25 million, which has financed more than 300 homes, leased to tribal members with the option to purchase them.
Now, instead of sharing a 10 foot by 10 foot room in her mother’s home, Norris and her 6 year old daughter, Jamie, wake up in separate bedrooms, eat breakfast in a spacious tiled kitchen and watch movies in their own living room.
The American dream has finally reached the Indian reservations of Arizona.
NATIVE UNITY - A place for Native American Peoples to solidify their tribes to make a positive impact on the cultural, social, economic and political fabric of American society and a place for non-Natives to better understand the ways of the American Indian.