South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition members showcase successful Native veterans homeownership models

Pictured: A group tours the Pine Ridge Reservation to explore strategies to increase rates of homeownership among Native American veterans. Left to Right: Rafael Mendoza, building contractor; Kelsie Whiting, South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition; Ana Garibaldi, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation; Steph Provost and Amanda Running Bear, Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial; George Cannizzaro and Michael Bekaert, U.S. Senator Mike Rounds Office; and Tawney Brunsch, Lakota Funds.(Photo: South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition)

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Native community development financial institutions host Pine Ridge Indian Reservation tour

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South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition

South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition members are continuing to advocate for policies that increase rates of Native American veteran homeownership. Lakota Funds and Mazaska Owecaso Otipi Financial, both Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that serve the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, hosted a Reservation-wide tour for two staffers from United States Senator Mike Rounds’ (R-SD) office, Michael Bekaert, Director of In-State Military and Veterans Affairs, and George Cannizzaro, Veterans Affairs Fellow.

“We are so thankful to George and Mike for taking the time to visit with us and really get a true understanding for the environment we are working in, the challenges our Native veterans are facing when it comes to purchasing a home, and the success we’ve had with implementing new and innovative models to support our veterans in becoming homeowners,” says Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director of Lakota Funds and also a member of the Coalition’s Native Veterans Homeownership Committee.

The tour included meet and greets with Native veterans at their homes and highlighted various loan products they had utilized – including the Mazaska construction loan, the USDA 502, and the Veterans Affairs’ Native American Direct Loan (NADL) – challenges they encountered, and strategies implemented by service providers to support Native veterans as they pursue homeownership. One such strategy highlighted during the day’s luncheon was a newly developed guide to homeownership for Oglala Sioux veterans, created by Mazaska with funding from Enterprise Community Partners. The printed guide helps Native veterans on Pine Ridge navigate the homeownership process and includes several resources.

“Many of the veterans we work with are almost ready to give up because they’ve run into so many road blocks trying to buy a home. Some have been at it for years. What we have found is that relationships matter – not just with our local veterans but also with other lenders, the Tribe, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service, and our many community partners. We serve as a liaison between the veteran and these agencies and resources to keep the process moving,” says Steph Provost, Loan Officer at Mazaska.

The tour follows several months of collaboration between the Coalition and Rounds’ office in an effort to streamline the Native American Direct Loan program. Most recently, in June, Rounds, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC), along with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-MT), called on the Government Accountability Office to review the Native American Direct Loan program. The senators requested the evaluation of the Native American Direct Loan program out of concern that it is not effectively serving Native American veterans. This request is a critical step towards programmatic improvement through legislative or other means.

Senator Rounds will also host a listening session this Thursday, September 3, 2020, for him to personally discuss reform strategies with Native veteran homebuyers and the Coalition members that support them.

“Homeownership on tribal lands can be a complex process, but we are continuing to chip away at the barriers to ensure that our veterans are compensated for the sacrifices they have made. It is exciting to see progress and the level of congressional support we have,” says Brunsch.

About the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition

The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition was born out of a need to expand homeownership opportunities for Native Americans in the state of South Dakota. Created in 2013, the Coalition is a diverse group of agencies, institutions, and organizations that works to increase homeownership opportunities for South Dakota’s Native people to build strong and healthy communities. Its growing group of members includes representatives of South Dakota’s tribes, federal and state agencies, tribally designated housing entities (TDHEs), nonprofit organizations, housing developers, lenders, and community development financial institutions. The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition works to increase Native homeownership rates by strategically leveraging knowledge and resources among stakeholders and other key entities. More information about the Coalition can be found at www.sdnativehomeownershipcoalition.org.

South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition, SDNHC logo
(Image: South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition)
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