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Thune, Smith, Rounds, Tester Introduce Legislation to Encourage Homeownership Across Indian Country

Senators’ legislation would accelerate the review and processing of mortgages by the Bureau of Indian Affairs

December 14, 2021

U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) today introduced the Tribal Trust Land Homeownership Act. This bipartisan legislation would create statutory timelines in which the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) would be required to process and approve mortgages involving property located on tribal trust land. Additionally, it would enhance the ability of certain federal agencies to operate their tribal housing programs and improve communication between the BIA and tribes, tribal members, and lenders through the establishment of a realty ombudsman within the BIA who can communicate with relevant parties.


“Affordable housing opportunities on tribal trust land can be hard to come by in South Dakota and across the nation, due in part to the BIA’s challenging mortgage approval process, which can complicate lenders’ ability to provide financing and participate in federal tribal housing programs,” said Thune. “My bipartisan legislation would expedite this mortgage approval process and encourage more lenders to provide mortgages across Indian Country, which would, in turn, expand tribal members’ opportunities for homeownership.”


“Without a safe, affordable place to live, nothing in your life works,” said Smith. “The Indian Home Loan Guarantee program is a key federal tool to help Native families buy a home, but for too long, the program has been plagued by bureaucratic delays that have left families waiting months to complete home purchases, especially on Tribal trust lands. Our bipartisan legislation seeks to cut through the red tape and help Native homebuyers acquire homes in a timely manner.”


“As a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I strongly support this legislation that benefits home and business ownership opportunities for tribal members,” said Rounds. “This bill is a product of many discussions with tribal entities, lenders and the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition. The Tribal Trust Land Homeownership Act will hold the BIA accountable to timely processing of mortgage packets and title status reports.”


“Housing availability and affordability are serious issues in Indian Country, and the red tape around getting a mortgage on Tribal land is making it even worse,” said Tester. “This legislation will hold bureaucrats to timelines and help folks in Indian Country access financing quickly and efficiently. Expanding access and availability of housing is critically important for families to thrive and businesses to grow, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure the federal government isn’t getting in the way.”


“The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition really appreciates Senator Thune’s and Rounds’ leadership in promoting Native homeownership opportunities,” said Juel Burnette, branch manager of 1st Tribal Lending and member of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition’s executive committee. “This legislation will go a long way with putting sound processes in place so that more Native Americans can enjoy the benefits of homeownership on our reservations in South Dakota and across the nation.”


“The Mortgage Bankers Association commends Senators Thune, Smith, Rounds, and Tester for taking action to improve and encourage access to quality affordable housing on trust land,” said Bill Killmer, senior vice president of legislation and political affairs at MBA. “Specifically, this legislation will reduce or eliminate BIA processing delays, thereby encouraging more lenders to participate in trust land mortgage lending.”


Currently, mortgages involving property on tribal trust land must be reviewed and approved by the BIA in order for the mortgage to be finalized. This pertains to residential, commercial, and right-of-way mortgages, to name a few. The BIA Mortgage Handbook establishes timelines for BIA offices to process and approve these mortgages, to which the timelines are not always adhered. Placing these timelines into statute would improve the timeliness of mortgage approvals and ensure lenders are not disincentivized from providing homeownership opportunities on tribal trust land.