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Removing barriers to rez home ownership; Feds come to Rapid City to listen

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RAPID CITY, S.D. ? Barriers to homeownership on tribal land are still formidable, but Fannie Mae officials came to Indian country at the recent Great Plains Native American Housing Summit here looking for ways to overcome them.

The one word they heard was "consultation." Tribal housing officials were impressed with Fannie Mae, becasue no other agency or organization had come to Indian country intent on learning. Some attendees at the summit said that most come to "tell us how to do things and never listen." The consensus was that Fannie Mae might set a precedent on how to listen in Indian country.

"We don't know all the answers, but we have hearts in the right place in trying to make the difference," said Bob Simpson, director of Fannie Mae's South Dakota Partnership Office and manager of its new Native American Business Council. "If Fannie Mae did not want to remove all the barriers in Indian country as it does in the rest of the country, we wouldn't be here discussing the problems. People on the reservations should have access to home ownership like everyone else."

Fannie Mae, a corporation chartered by the federal government to broaden the mortgage market, is often referred to as a government-sponsored enterprise. Once called the Federal National Mortgage Association, it helps bring serious investment money to back up the institutions such as banks that lend to would-be homeowners. One of its goals is to streamline the process of acquiring loans for housing on reservations.

Fannie Mae officials see the need to promote more awareness about loan procedures. "Some tribes are just learning about Fannie Mae and what is in the future," one housing official said.

Tribal housing representatives asked for more meetings like the recent Great Plains Native American Housing Summit. They also asked Fannie Mae and other potential mortgage lenders to learn more about the culture in which they are working.

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Federal and outside financial officials were reminded that not all tribes are similar in cultural beliefs and habits. A Lakota woman reminded the summit attendees that in her culture it could be disrespectful to look another person in the eye. She said in her culture the belief is that animals look into each other's eyes before fighting.

"Tribes have a vision of what their lives should be like. Don't assume we understand real estate. Your programs are based on national standards, so develop and create an investment with the tribes out of the box," one summit attendee said.

Another suggestion was not to assume that what works at one reservation would work at another.

Financial education will also play a large role since many people living on reservations do not have the knowledge of what it takes to establish a financial base for the family.

"Most wealth is found in homes, but we haven't had these opportunities in Indian country. It is hoped now that home ownership would decrease poverty and its problems and increase employment opportunities," a summit attendee said. "We don't have ownership on the reservation. Our homes are known as housing authority homes and that system has problems with residents because people don't take responsibility."

Tribal officials also sought to learn what programs for mortgage lending were available and from what organizations. The common refrain was that communication is a key to helping tribal housing.