A generation ago. the federal Government Accountability Office did a survey on mortgage lending on American Indian reservations. It came up with an astoundingly low number—just 91 mortgages made on all trust land in the years between 1992 and 1996.
Mortgage finance on reservations has improved since then, but by how much? ICMN has done its own informal assessment of how many home loans have been done since then on trust land. It is impossible to say precisely what the total is, but it has passed the 5,000 mark, meaning roughly 250 a year over 20 years.
ICMN has been able to identify more than $600 million in mortgage finance extended on tribal or allotted trust land during that time.
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The most successful Indian mortgage program to date has been the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 184 loan, which guarantees 100 percent of lender outlays. As of the end of fiscal 2015, the HUD 184 had been used to guarantee 3,844 mortgages on trust land, using $460.2 million of finance, according to a HUD spreadsheet. That’s an average of about $120,000 per mortgage.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a Native veteran mortgage program, even though Natives can get loans through the regular VA program open to all veterans. But with the difficulty in getting lenders to make reservation mortgages on their own, the VA started a Native American Direct Loan for trust land mortgages. To date, it has extended $140 million in finance through more than 1,000 loans for an average of $140,000 per loan, according to a DVA Powerpoint.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also targets Natives on trust land with its Rural Housing Service section 502 direct mortgages. It has done only around 350 of them to date, according to a USDA Powerpoint. Estimating a $120,000 average loan, that would be about $42 million in finance.
There are other government programs that deal with aspects of home finance on reservations. HUD’s Title VI loan, for instance, is a “project” loan often used to finance infrastructure for housing developments. About 100 of them have been extended in the past 20 years, totaling about $239 million.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs has an active Housing Improvement Program for Indians living within tribal service areas. According to a document in the Federal Register, 140 HIP grants were set to be given in fiscal 2015. And the RHS section 504 program provides grants and loans for home improvements and is used in Indian country. Sixty-seven RHS 504 loans and grants were made on trust land during fiscal 2014.
USDA’s total mortgages to Indians (on and off reservation) come to 6,796 loans for $887 million between 2009 and 2015. It has invested an additional $498 million in water and environmental projects.
For the HUD 184, totals through fiscal 2015 are 630 loans on allotted lands for a total of $90 million, and 3,214 loans on tribal trust land, for total finance of $370 million.
HUD officials maintain that many HUD 184s are made in areas just adjacent to reservations. And some of the biggest states in terms of Native populations are hardly on the board because they don’t have reservations. Alaska is a prime example, with more than 200 Native Alaskan villages but just one allotted HUD 184 and one on tribal trust land in fiscal 2015. Its many villages are certainly Indian country, but they do not have trust status.
Similarly, Oklahoma had more than 4,000 HUD 184s made in fiscal 2015 but just one on allotted land (the state has no reservations but there is some allotted trust land owned by individuals).