Securing Homeownership for Native Americans

Government seizure of tribal land has had a lasting effect on Native life and accessibility to homeownership on reservations. For centuries, the Native Americans have fought to gain ownership over their own land.

The 1823 U.S. Supreme Court case, Johnson v. M’Intosh, had a significant negative impact on the power and sovereignty tribes had over their land. The case began when two non-Natives asserted possession over the same lot of land. One of these individuals acquired the territory from the tribes themselves; the other acquired it from the federal government. The Supreme Court eventually “recognized the superior power of the federal government to acquire lands from Indians”. This incident set a precedent for government seizure of Native land as the United States expanded westward.

In his blog, Senior Director of Affordable Homeownership, Doug Ryan, discusses the more recent challenges of homeownership for Native Americans.

Today, 53 percent of Native Americans are homeowners—a rate much lower than the 71 percent of Whites who own homes. Despite protective measures, the Native American population continues to face many hardships that impede participation in the homebuying experience, particularly when it comes to finding lenders for home purchases. One challenge is that many lenders are not comfortable with lending on Native American trust land as it is a form of land tenure unfamiliar to institutions that generally lend on fee simple transactions.

While providing greater access to different financing options will make homeownership more affordable for families in reservations, it will not erase all barriers to homeownership. Native American communities also need greater access to more affordable housing options such as manufactured housing. A significant portion (17 percent) of housing on tribal lands is already manufactured and directing homeownership financing options towards manufactured housing would help bolster the homeownership rate in reservations.

This November, for Native American Heritage month, Prosperity Now will discuss Native American homeownership as a pathway to economic prosperity and community development in Indian Country. Through a series of blog posts leading up to our annual I’M HOME Conference, we will discuss the ways tribal leaders can maximize their resources to create more homeownership opportunities on reservations. We’ll look at various strategies outlined in the Tribal Leaders’ Handbook on Homeownership, created by the Center for Indian Country Development (CICD) to provide leaders of Native American communities with resources and support for achieving homeownership on Native lands. The I’M HOME conference will also include a plenary session focused on manufactured housing in Native communities.

We have a long way to go before Native Americans are guaranteed the same housing opportunities as the rest of the country. Prosperity Now is hard at work to make this a reality. To learn even more about manufactured housing and what you can do to make it more accessible for low-income families, join us at the I’M HOME Conference this December!

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