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Native homeownership rate on the rise

Correction: Cielo Gibson works for the Coeur d�Alene Tribe of Idaho, not the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho.

More and more Native Americans are becoming homebuyers but they still have far to go to catch up to the rest of the nation, Indian housing leaders said on Monday.

According to federal statistics, only a third of American Indians and Alaska Natives own homes. That is less than half of the national rate.

"As an American, I was shocked," said Cielo Gibson, the executive director of the housing authority for the Coeur d�Alene Tribe of Idaho.

Gibson joined the National American Indian Housing Council on Capitol Hill yesterday to launch a new website,, aimed at turning the situation around. The site provides information and tools to help Native Americans purchase their own homes.

"It takes of a lot of resources to address this," said Jackie Johnson, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians and a former Housing and Urban Development official. She called the site an important step in the campaign to improve homeownership rates in Indian Country.

Along with the site, NAIHC cited newly released data that shows some progress is being made. According to the annual Home Mortgage Disclosure Act statistics, more American Indians and Alaska Natives have applied for home mortgages and more have received them.

From 2004-2005, there was a nearly 5 percent increase in the number of Native Americans who applied for home purchase loans. On a more encouraging note, there was a 5.4 percent increase in the number of Natives who were approved for mortgages.

At the same time, Native Americans are rejected for home loans at nearly twice the rate of whites. More than 20 percent of the Native applications were denied in 2005, according to the data.

"Clearly, the more favorable loan outcomes for Native Americans show that they are catching up with the population at large in terms of their homeownership knowledge," said Marty Shuravloff, the chairman of NAIHC, in a statement. "So their continued disfavor as borrowers -- as demonstrated by their lesser rise in originations relative to the general population -- is a point of concern."

Shuravloff attributed the increase in Native loans to the programs and services offered by NAIHC, which provides training to Indian housing departments across the nation. New sessions are being developed to help tribes boost homeownership rates among their members.

At the Capitol Hill briefing yesterday, Gibson and Johnson said the website will further those goals by putting information directly in the hands of potential homebuyers. "It's the type of instrument anyone can use," said Gibson.

"This homebuyer education is not available everywhere," said Johnson, so putting it online makes a big difference, particularly for people in rural areas.

Indian Country homeownership is a complex topic, due to the legal status of land on reservations. The site discusses the differences between trust, allotted and fee simple land, along with the types of lending available.

Jim Lester, an aide to Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Arizona), called the Bureau of Indian Affairs a barrier to homeownership. He said the agency's title system "is not working" but praised tribes who have shown success by implementing their own systems.

The Bush administration has sought to improve Native homeownership rates off the reservation. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has expanded an Indian loan program to cover urban areas in several states, including Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Oregon, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Home Mortgate Rates:
Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Data (September 2006)

Relevant Links:
Office of Public and Indian Housing, HUD -
National American Indian Housing Council -