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Economics Special: Building new beginnings on Pine Ridge

KYLE, S.D. - A new partnership, a new beginning and hope for the future through home ownership could mean an entirely new outlook on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

A reservation with nearly 30,000 people where up to 25 people may live in a two-bedroom home and a housing shortage that would be alleviated with 4,000 new homes seems to be an insurmountable task, but a new program seeks to improve things.

Homes built under this new method will be owned by the families, they will pay mortgages and establish a new environment for the children and also give them a legacy, home advocates said.

"This is a historical day. (Pres.) Clinton came here in 1998 to see what he could do. One area was housing. We've built 60 homes since then. It takes groups working together to make deals happen and we have a good working group," said Paul Iron Cloud, president of the board of Partnership for Housing.

The historical event is the culmination of several organizations, not government organizations, but private corporations that will provide mortgage loans, title insurance and available capital to build new homes for potential home owners on the reservation.

On Aug. 26, the PMI Title Insurance Company announced it was setting up a $170,000 revolving fund to be used for new home construction on Pine Ridge.

"We made a promise four years ago that we would increase our commitment to Indian country. We are dedicated to reaching out to underserved communities. One house leads to two houses, but we want to see two houses lead to four and four to eight and so on," said Roger Haughten, chairman and CEO of PMI group.

The revolving fund is part of the PMI Gateway initiative that established funds for refurbishing and building of new homes.

Along with PMI, Fannie Mae Corporation and First Mortgage Company entered into a partnership with the Oglala Sioux Tribe to provide affordable housing through homeownership.

Now people on the Pine Ridge Reservation do not have to seek out lenders or go off the reservation to apply for a mortgage. The Oglala Sioux Tribe Partnership for Housing will initiate the application for mortgages with the help of Fannie Mae's computer programming and it will then be sent to First Mortgage Corporation.

Mortgages will be purchased by Fannie Mae, said Bob Simpson, Fannie Mae housing representative in South Dakota.

"The people of the Oglala Sioux Tribe have worked long and hard to see this day come. We are especially proud of the work that was done to ensure conventional mortgage financing could be made available on tribal trust land, without waiving our sovereign immunity or tribal court jurisdiction," said John Yellow Bird Steele, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in a prepared statement.

"I am proud that the hopes and aspirations of many people will bring a higher quality of life to Pine Ridge. With this partnership, health and education will improve. Good things are happening here. The people themselves are pulling forward for the future generations as home ownership becomes a reality," said Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.

Sen. Johnson said he was present in 1998 when President Clinton brought groups to Pine Ridge and heard Fannie Mae officers promise a $3 million commitment to the reservation.

Julie Gould, vice president for community lending for Fannie Mae said the company had "made a commitment for life to Pine Ridge," to help build homes and create home ownership.

Part of the partnership in homeownership is the construction of new homes that will be sold to qualifying families for between $50,000 and $65,000.

"This is a dream come true," said Shirley May, who with husband John, are one of the first three families to get an approved mortgage and receive a self-help constructed home.

The Mays have dreamed of this day for 14 years, as long as they have been married, John said.

"The waiting is over, now our kids will have a home for them to take over," May said.

May said they have been thinking for a long time about what they wanted in their home, the color of paint on the outside and what amenities they wanted in the kitchen and elsewhere.

"We sat down and thought of what the outside would look like. We are making plans for the outside. We didn't want to live in the housing, we like living in the country, the kids are better off," May said.

When the Mays' home is built it will be moved to their land located east of Kyle, on land that they own.

For any potential home owner, the new partnership does not require the land be owned by the home owner. The mortgage company will issue a mortgage and Fannie Mae will buy the mortgage even if the home is on trust land. Trust land is the issue that has hampered home ownership on Pine Ridge and many other reservations in the past.

"In the past, Pine Ridge residents faced two major obstacles to obtaining conventional mortgage financing on the reservation. First, there were no mortgage lenders located within the reservation boundaries and second, it was not possible to originate a conventional mortgage on tribal trust land.

"The Pine Ridge Conventional Lending Initiative breaks down these barriers," said Ron McCord, president and CEO of First Mortgage Company.