A Community Striving To Rebuild One Of The Poorest Places In The US
June 11, 2019 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Battered by poverty, discrimination and climate change, Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Reservation are raising homes – and hope – for the next generation.

Alan Jealous, a 27-year-old construction worker, dreamt of building and owning a home. Homeownership is the cornerstone of the American Dream. But for this citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation living on the Pine Ridge reservation, a community that regularly tops the list of the poorest places in the country, having realized this dream is a monumental achievement.

posted by poffin boffin (8 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this post! It's great to hear that Pine Ridge Reservation is doing innovative, creative work to address housing shortage in their community.

From what I've seen, read and heard, developing housing on indigenous lands is hard, and this article highlights some of that:
Preparing community members to take on $160,000 in debt has been equally challenging. Requirements written into most conventional loans — even subsidized homeownership programs — make it difficult for most Native families to qualify. HUD’s Indian Home Loan program, for example, requires applicants to have a decent credit score and debt-to-income ratio as well as three months of savings. If you have a few missed credit card or car payments, tough luck. If, like many people on the reservation, you deal primarily in cash, you need not apply.

“Some of those conditions and programmatic requirements are not realistic” for Native Americans living on reservations, said Joan Timeche, executive director of the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona and a member of the Hopi Nation. “Most of the folks we work with are at that area of extreme need.”

Thunder Valley CDC tries to be more lenient with its requirements while also being a responsible lender to community members. Their housing team has also trained more than 800 Oglala in financial literacy, at least a third of whom are under 18. The hope is to create a culture of saving, and a big part of that is helping community members like Jealous break free from cycles of poverty.
For more on this aspect, with some focused on the Navajo Nation's unique hurdles: Why it's so difficult to build homes on the Navajo Reservation -- To build new residences on tribal trust land, the Navajo Housing Authority and private developers must overcome multiple obstacles. (Dennis Wagner and Craig Harris for The Arizona Republic, Dec. 14, 2016)
The perception that the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Reservation is wide open to development is false.

Most of the land is too rugged, or without roads, infrastructure, nearby jobs or shopping.

Even where dwellings might be built, legal permission can be nearly impossible to secure.

More than 90 percent of the reservation technically belongs to the U.S. government, managed under a trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Less than 1 percent is “fee-simple property” owned by individuals who can freely sell their land or build on it. Environmental, archaeological and other permits also are needed.

Private-property owners who meet zoning requirements can get a permit and start construction.

But on trust lands, Navajos may apply only for long-term housing leases. Those wanting a home must get approval from officials at local Chapter Houses — there are 110 across the reservation — and the tribal Land Department.
Anecdotally, I've heard that the difficulty in getting housing loans on tribal lands mean that it's easier to get a vehicle loan, which is why there are so many mobile homes (considered vehicles, which are personal property -- at least in Virginia?) on tribal lands. Also, I imagine that mobile homes are just less expensive than "stick-built" homes.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:28 AM on June 11, 2019 [7 favorites]

Those houses are beautiful.
posted by BeeDo at 12:34 PM on June 11, 2019

Thank you for posting this. For those interested is supporting Lakota and indigenous lead initiatives; an indigenous wisdom and permaculture convergence is being held in August 2019 and there are options for those who are struggling financially to attend. We are all called to change our relationship with the earth and the means of production- to form relationships with the earth and plants and to give back. They are associated with Olceri who are working on a lot of projects for Pine Ridge.

"We understand the Lakota can help their own community best - that's why we only support existing Lakota initiatives that will be maintained after the convergence ends. "

I have family from Pine Ridge who are trying to attend.
posted by xarnop at 1:01 PM on June 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

I posted this in another thread, recently but I've been donating to the Sacred Shawl Society via the Lakota Friends Circle, which is supporting women-run shelters, youth centers and schools at the Pine Ridge Reservation. I'd love to see more wealth transfer from white-run companies and individuals to native-run programs, and it seems like the Thunder Valley CDC is a program which is centered on their wants and needs. The solar panels and the design choices of the stone bases and wood interior of the community center are really cool.

There is also a VA-run Native American Direct Loan program, but I'd imagine government bureaucracy prevents a lot of eligible veterans from using the benefit.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 1:41 PM on June 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

This is a great story and I admire their determination and ingenuity.

I am, however, concerned about responsible lending in this context (can't help it, it's a matter of professional interest). I recognize that white American metrics may not always capture creditworthiness amongst really anyone who is not, and, to the extent the development corporation is able to bring more accurate measures to bear, that's great. But the poverty on Pine Ridge is not a myth, and a mortgage is a pretty unforgiving instrument. I have long been skeptical of the idea that homeownership that requires taking on a significant mortgage under the current circumstances should be a widespread tactic for addressing poverty, because you can get crushed by a mortgage just as easily as you can make money off it, and, the more precarious your income, the more vulnerable you are.

Additionally, I looked at a calculator, and to finance a $160,000 house such that an ~$800 payment would pay it off in 30 years requires about a 40% downpayment, which I doubt is accessible to many people. So how are these loans being cast?
posted by praemunire at 2:03 PM on June 11, 2019

I understand the word "raising" was probably chosen because of its "nurturing" connotation, but it's confusing because "raising a house" is understood already to mean lifting it to put something underneath, or "razing" meaning to demolish.

posted by humboldt32 at 2:11 PM on June 11, 2019

In the context of building barns and houses "raising" is a pretty well known term (in some areas anyway) with a long history. One of my neighbours held a house raising bee to build their new home.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 3:16 PM on June 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

Ah, I didn't think of that.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:28 PM on June 11, 2019

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