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One-stop mortgage report shows growth

WASHINGTON - Private lenders and the U.S. government made 471 mortgages in American Indian areas last year - a small number but still five times more than the last government volume estimate.

The estimate was in a report to President Clinton on his "one-stop mortgage" Indian initiative by the federal departments of the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development.

Previously, the General Accounting Office made a widely circulated estimate that only 91 mortgages were made on reservation trust land between 1992 and 1996. (They went to members of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin and the Tulalip Tribe of Washington state, both with relationships with local lenders.)

Since the 91 mortgages were for a four- or five-year period, and the 471 were for one year, that translates into a 20-fold increase in a few years. However, "Indian areas" and trust land are not exactly comparable.

And since more than 20,000 Indians got mortgages in 1999, Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data shows, 95 percent, were for private property outside their homelands.

Not all lending was on trust land. Freddie Mac's volume came through its Oklahoma tribal initiative. Those loans are on private property, but are considered in "Indian areas" defined by tribes or tribal housing entities.

The same is true of Alaska.

Dollar volumes were not broken out in the report except for Freddie and Fannie. Freddie Mac provided $11.3 million in financing last year, while Fannie bought more than $30 million in loans, which includes the 16 conventional (private) mortgages and more than 200 of the government loans.

A report from the Fannie Mae Foundation, Fannie Mae's non-profit arm, puts total mortgages outstanding on tribal trust land at "fewer than 2,000."

However, it cites only "current estimates." A call to clarify the figure went unanswered.

The 250-plus-page One Stop report had four basic recommendations to President Clinton who commissioned the study in the summer of 1998.

They include developing a national intermediary for mortgage lending in Indian country, improving home-buyer education, streamlining the mortgage process and increasing private sector involvement.

It specifically mentions a national intermediary from within Indian country, perhaps resulting from a $5 million request to develop Indian homeownership capacity in the current HUD budget.

Such an entity would join other intermediaries in the field, including the Housing Assistance Council, the Local Initiatives Support Corp., the Enterprise Foundation and the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp.

It also calls for local intermediaries like the initial "one stop" Indian efforts of the Navajo Partnership for Housing and the Oglala Sioux Tribe Partnership for Housing. They arranged more than 50 mortgages on the Navajo Nation, the country's largest reservation, and the Oglala's Pine Ridge, S.D., reservation.

A key initiative in the third recommendation would streamline the BIA review for titles on trust or leasehold mortgages.

The fourth recommendation, boosting private lender involvement, would increase access to title and homeowner insurance on Indian land and correct appraisals.