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Mortgages soared for American Indians in 1999

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WASHINGTON - The 1999 numbers are in and present a much-improved picture for American Indians. Mortgages made to American Indians, on and off reservations, jumped 44 percent to 26,000 last year, while the number rejected for loans declined sharply, Home Mortgage Disclosure Act figures show.

Highlights of the report show:

* More than half the Indians who applied for loans (51.2 percent) got them, a 10 percentage point increase in a year.

* Indians made the highest percentage gains of any ethnic group, more than double the next highest (Hispanics).

* Private (non-government) loans jumped by 59 percent.

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* Only 42 percent of Native applicants were turned down last year, a vast improvement over 1998, when nearly 53 percent of Indian applicants were rejected.

The government said 20,965 Indians obtained private mortgages in 1999, compared to 13,175 in 1998. An additional 5,138 got loans from government mortgage programs, a 5 percent increase.

It should be noted small increases in absolute numbers produce high percentage boosts when the total of loans made is small. So, while Indian loans increased 142.7 percent between 1993 and 1999, it represents only 13,000 mortgages. However, 1997 figures showed numbers of loans to Indians actually declined year-to-year.

Lenders must collect ethnicity information on applications and report it each year under provisions of the act. More than 7,800 lenders reported 1999 mortgages to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, representing 22.91 million applications.

Nationwide lenders targeted Indian mortgages for the last several years, making inroads in extending finance on tribal homelands, previously largely ignored.