After a history of forced eviction from their lands, Native Americans are now struggling to own homes.

Until recently, Indigenous peoples had little recourse against discrimination in housing policies. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 helped. However, data from Prosperity Now showed that only 45% of Native Americans in Montana own their homes, compared to nearly 70% of white residents.

Darrell LaMere, loan officer at the Billings-based Native American Development Corp., said the pandemic and the current housing crisis have compounded that problem.

“Affordability, availability, substandard housing – everything about the housing market is terrible in bookings,” he said. “Housing is in dire straits right now, on all reservations in Montana.”

LaMere said housing is an important part of economic development, adding that he thinks a priority should be helping potential borrowers improve their bad credit scores or negative credit reports, which could otherwise reduce their chances of qualifying for a mortgage.

LaMere said some big banks don’t work with people on reservations. This is reminiscent of the practice of redlining, when banks discriminated against people based on their race or neighborhood. He says there are also legal differences for reservations.

“We are considered sovereign countries,” he said, “and some banks are hesitant to invest on reserves, just because of the lockdown issue.”

He explained that part of the concern is that some tribes don’t have foreclosure laws, so it can be harder for banks to recoup their losses if a homeowner defaults.

Some financial institutions, including the NADC, work with these borrowers to improve their chances. LaMere noted that there is also 1st Tribal Lending, which can provide loans through India’s Section 184 Home Loan Guarantee Scheme. It is a product of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“A conventional bank would look at your credit score and your credit report. If it was bad, they would say, ‘No, we can’t give you a loan. But 1st Tribal Lending will work with you. Thus, they help people whose credit reports and credit history are compromised.

HUD data from 2017 showed the program guaranteed more than 37,000 loans.

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