Rounds speaks on Indian reservation homeownership

Rounds speaks on Indian reservation homeownership Gov. Mike Rounds visited new homebuyer Kathleen YellowBird-Steele in Sioux Falls this week to recognize June 16-20 as Homeownership Education Awareness Week.

The Homeownership Education Resource Organization (H.E.R.O.), a nonprofit organization which organizes homebuyer education throughout the State, USDA Rural Development, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the South Dakota Housing Development Authority (SDHDA) are partnering to focus on the importance of homebuyer education to all new homebuyers.

"Whether they are young folks just graduating from college, families who have never even thought about owning a home until now, immigrants moving to Sioux Falls or families attempting to purchase homes on our Indian reservations, home financing can be a daunting topic," said Rounds, "and we must work harder to ensure that folks understand the process, especially on the reservations and for folks where homeownership has not been traditional."

YellowBird-Steele, who is a recent homebuyer in Sioux Falls, participated in homebuyer education classes offered by Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Lutheran Social Services and the Sioux Empire Housing Partnership in Sioux Falls. The classes taught her about the basics of purchasing a home.

"Having a home for my family to call our own has been a dream for many years," said YellowBird-Steele. "I had done a lot of research myself when preparing to buy a home, but after taking advantage of the homebuyer education classes, I learned that I was still very na�ve about many aspects of the process. I think anyone who is looking at buying a house should go through a class, the small commitment it takes up front could save you a lot in the long run."

Native American homeownership has increased in South Dakota with the aid of programs such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Section 184 program. According to Rounds, there is much more that needs to be done.

"With the unique housing barriers that face the Trust lands and the Indian reservations, we must step up our efforts, our partnerships, and our focus finding ways to give those residents opportunities for homeownership."

Since the start of HUD's Section 184 Program in 1995, 132 South Dakota Native American families have purchased homes on tribally-owned, allotted or individual fee land on the nine reservations throughout the state. These loans total more than $8.6 million in the South Dakota. HUD recently acknowledged the South Dakota Housing Development Authority for the active participation in this Program throughout South Dakota.

"Homeownership is a high priority to us," said Bob Ecoffey, deputy director of the Great Plains Region of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. "One big obstacle for many is the lack of understanding and knowledge of programs available, or people just being plain scared of the home buying process. We are all working to help change that."

Ecoffey recently returned to South Dakota to serve as the deputy director for the BIA and is anxious to work on increasing the homeownership rates on reservation areas.

"We are happy to assist applicants in reaching their goals of owning their own homes. Homeownership Month gives us the opportunity to discuss the progress we're making to give more people the opportunity to own their own home," said USDA Rural Development State Director Lynn D. Jensen.

The Homeownership Education Resource Organization became a 501(c)3 non-profit two years ago challenged with the mission of advancing homeownership through high quality, consistent education by providing services and resources to education providers statewide.

"H.E.R.O. has made great strides in advancing homebuyer education opportunities for South Dakota residents," said Greg Jasmer, statewide coordinator for the organization. "With the help of many partners, we have developed a standardized curriculum and have raised more that $180,000 to directly fund education programs of our participating service providers."

H.E.R.O. currently has six participating service providers around the state. These providers are Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Lutheran Social Services and the Sioux Empire Housing Partnership in Sioux Falls, the Northeast South Dakota Community Action Program in Sisseton, Homes Are Possible, Inc. in Aberdeen, Consumer Credit Counseling Services of the Black Hills in Rapid City and the Neighborhood Housing Services of the Black Hills in Deadwood. These providers are offering quality, consistent homebuyer education that mortgage lenders can rely on.

The organization has received funding to help with these efforts from the South Dakota Community Foundation, the Citigroup Foundation, the South Dakota Housing Development Authority, and Fannie Mae.

During the past calendar year, due to H.E.R.O.'s increased funding, the partners have assisted 2,005 households with homebuyer education services. Of these 2,005 households, 487 of the households served became homeowners during the 2003 calendar year. In addition, a number of those households will be mortgage ready in anywhere from one to six months, while others need additional time to become mortgage ready.

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