TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma— Buying a first home can be challenging, especially if a person has made unwise financial choices in the past. Cherokee Nation offers a variety of programs to ensure Cherokee citizens have affordable housing choices to fit their needs, even if they're financial history hasn't been perfect on paper.
Many Cherokees grew up familiar with the tribe’s old housing system, which placed tribal citizens on a waiting list and many years later eventually built them a home. Newer, more efficient programs shorten the turnaround in achieving a path to home ownership. These new programs have created more Cherokee homeowners than ever before by putting program dollars to use much more effectively than in the past. Tribal officials estimate that for the same amount of money, these new programs allow more than six times as many people to own their own homes than the old system did.
One of the most popular housing options, the Mortgage Assistance Program or MAP, helps families secure a conventional mortgage, allowing the tribe to use money that would have built a single home to instead help several families with down payments. MAP, which is coordinated through Cherokee Nation’s Commerce Group, requires potential homeowners to attend a series of financial literacy classes that teach how to create a viable family budget, how to pay down existing debt and how to rebuild credit in order to become more attractive to mortgage lenders.
In the past five years, Cherokee Nation MAP has helped more than 5,000 people build their credit, reduce their debt and become more financially stable. More than 1,700 have achieved home ownership, and many more become eligible daily. In the same five year time frame under the Cherokee Nation’s old system of building houses, far fewer of those people, only about 600, would have ever made it into their homes.
The Sowers family of Tahlequah, Oklahoma became successful homeowners through MAP. Chris and Sherry Sowers, who have six children, always dreamed of owning their own home, although finding one large enough to actually afford was difficult. They were also held back by mounting debt and a simple lack of enough financial knowledge to fix their situation, they told Cherokee News.
In 2008, the couple entered the Cherokee Nation’s MAP and attended homebuyer classes. Ben Buckskin, a self-sufficiency counselor, was assigned to the Sowers’ application and began meeting regularly with them. Buckskin helped assess the family’s needs and worked with the couple to create a budget and a savings plan. The Sowers were encouraged to pay down debt and rebuild their credit score in preparation of applying for a home loan. The process wasn’t without sacrifices. The couple cut a few items from their everyday expenses, printed out their respective credit scores and began making calls to creditors. The Sowers took control of their financial future, arranging ways to pay down debt, while inching their credit scores back up.
“Chris and Sherry managed to pay off several creditors while raising their credit scores,” said Buckskin, adding that new financial habits will enable the couple to successfully navigate the ongoing responsibilities of home ownership.
Chris Sowers said the MAP worked closely with them every step of the way, offering guidance as the two worked to raise their credit scores. “It did wonders for our family,” he said.
With good credit restored, the Sowers applied for, and were approved for a mortgage. Cherokee Nation MAP provided the family with a $15,000 down payment that will not have to be repaid as long as the family stays in the home at least ten years. Through their own hard work, monetary assistance from the Cherokee Nation and some careful coaching by their MAP counselor, the Sowers were able to purchase a home in Tahlequah big enough for their large family.
“It allowed us to buy a home that was an adequate size for our family,” said Sowers. “It’s been a blessing for us and our children.”
During the past ten years, Cherokee Nation housing programs have helped nearly 28,000 families with housing to fit their needs, whether that need is a mortgage, suitable senior housing or rehabilitating a cherished home so that a family can safely live there. In addition to the Mortgage Assistance Program, the Cherokee Nation also coordinates a number of rental programs for those who aren’t ready for or don’t want to be home owners at this time. It also provides home rehabilitation services for tribal citizens who are unable to make home renovations themselves, with priority given to the elderly and disabled.
For more information about the Cherokee Nation’s Mortgage Assistance Program or other related housing services, please call 918-453-5000 or 800-256-0671.