It's time for an Indian Supreme Court justice Commitment to Indian housing is growing


MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - The president of the National Congress of American Indians said it's time there was a Native Supreme Court Justice.

Susan Masten, who also is chairman of the Yurok Tribe, called for the first American Indian or Alaska Native representative on the High Court during the ninth annual National American Indian Housing Council held here at Foxwoods Casino.

Masten made the remark after urging tribes to get out the vote for the upcoming presidential election in November, noting the next president could nominate as many as three or four Supreme Court justices.

She also endorsed the concept of the recently launched Native American National Bank, and advocated that the U.S. government's current surplus be used to fund Indian needs.

Masten said American Indians need to be more aggressive to see that President Clinton's proposed $1.2 billion funding increase for Indian programs for fiscal 2001 is passed. And she urged members of Congress and the administration to visit Indian country, to see for themselves the need for economic development.

In housing news that emerged from the convention, PMI Mortgage Insurance Co. and Wells Fargo Home Mortgage said they will jointly produce conventional mortgages for some 300 American Indian families nationwide.

The announcement was made by Roger Houghton, chairman of the San Francisco-based mortgage insurer. He indicated the two firms committed $2 million to the program that will concentrate as much as possible on mortgages on tribal trust land. Mortgage insurers guarantee repayment of 20 percent of a mortgage's face value, a requirement if a loan is to be sold in the secondary mortgage market.

PMI has collaborated with secondary mortgage agency Freddie Mac, Seattle-based Washington Mutual Bank and First Americans Mortgage Co. of Kansas City on a successful lending program with four tribes in Oklahoma, but those loans are on private property. Trust land mortgages are more complicated since technically the land is owned by the federal government.

Houghton also said the firm is working on similar agreements with the Apache and Menominee tribes, adding that 300 Indian families have become homeowners already through PMI programs, which expanded to seven states in 1999.

Expanding home ownership for Native Americans is a corporate objective for PMI, he said, tracing his commitment to housing Indian people to a 1994 Habitat for Humanity home on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, at Eagle Butte, S.D.

In other housing finance news, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced the first loan in its Title VI program has closed. The $1.7 million loan was extended by First National Bank of Anchorage, Alaska, to the White Mountain Tribe to finance eight housing units.

Nine more Title VI loans are in process, said Jacqueline Johnson, Tlingit, HUD deputy assistant secretary in charge of its Office of Native American Programs.

Title VI is a section of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA), which allows tribes or their housing entities to leverage their annual NAHASDA housing block grants by as much as five times over, 90 percent guaranteed by the government.

Representatives of Freddie Mac and its secondary mortgage rival Fannie Mae also quantified their Indian lending, both on- and off-reservation, during the meeting.

Frank DeMarais, director of community based lending at Fannie Mae, said it bought $93 million in loans to reservation-based Indians over the last five years, including $30 million last year. Off trust land, the figure is $5.1 billion for the same time period.

He said a new $2 trillion affordable housing commitment includes $350 million targeted to Indians in 100 different tribes over the next 10 years.

James Carey, director of policy and program assessment at Freddie Mac, said his agency last year funded $441 million to Indians in 4,199 loans. The volume for 1998 was $500 million in 4,951 loans, and for 1997 $222 million in 2,241 loans.