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Choctaw housing program is finalist for HUD award

DURANT, Okla. - An innovative housing program has the Choctaw Nation in contention for a national award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The nation was notified earlier this month that it was among 404 finalists for the award. Each year HUD recognizes 100 organizations and projects throughout the country with their Best of the Best Award.

Award winners will be named in August, but for the Choctaw Nation, just providing quality homes for low-income American Indians is sufficiently rewarding.

The nation's exciting new housing program puts American Indians to work building modular homes. The homes are sold to low-income American Indians, allowing them to be homeowners. For the Choctaw Nation the program has been a win-win situation.

Instead of subsidizing low-income housing, the tribe allows low-income families to pre-qualify for a loan. The family goes to the modular housing plant in Coalgate and picks out floor plans and colors. Families who wouldn't have other opportunities can have their own custom-built home.

After the home is finished, it is moved onto a lot or rural site within a 10-county region in southeastern Oklahoma. Delivery and set-up costs are included in the loan package, which moves homes within a 60-mile radius of the plant for a flat rate.

Choctaw leaders believe that by subsidizing low-income families once instead of continually, they are getting more for less. Since the houses are new, homeowners see equity appreciate at a much faster rate than when they buy existing homes. Choctaw Chief Gregg Pyle is credited by many tribal members for his innovative ideas in meeting the demand for quality housing for tribal members and American Indians in the Oklahoma area.

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The program is set up so two people, making minimum wage, qualify for the home loan. The program is not limited to members of the Choctaw Nation. Anyone from any tribe can apply for the housing through the Choctaw Housing Authority.

"Anyone from any recognized tribe, anybody who has a CDIB card from a recognized tribe, we build for," Scott Grossfield, assistant plant manager, said.

"They would have to give us a call and we will mail them an application. They fill out the application, see if they qualify." Grossfield said depending on the income of the applicant, different packages apply. For example, if a family makes less than $30,000 annually, their actual cost would be the materials and labor would be subsidized. Cost of the materials would be covered in the loan, but no added cost of labor would be added.

By manufacturing the homes, the Choctaw are able to furnish tribal members and other American Indians in the region with quality housing for much less than traditional HUD programs.

The modular housing plant also puts tribal members to work and teaches them new skills. Currently the plant employs 16 people, but expansion plans, which include the construction of a new plant, will put even more people to work within the next few months. The plant suffered a setback when it was destroyed by fire in April, but Grossfield said modular homes are being built outside the old plant while the new building is constructed.

The plant has been building new homes for about a year and a half and has completed 25 new homes. Grossfield said the new plant would help meet the growing demand for the homes. He said the homes are high quality and meet or exceed the quality of site-built homes.

The program is growing quickly in popularity. So popular, in fact, that only Scott Grossfield was able answer questions for this interview. The rest of those involved with the modular home project were busy working with prospective homeowners.

Those interested in the Choctaw housing program may go to http://www.choctawnation.com/programs/modular_house.htm for more information.