by Candi Helseth
The Fall 2003 issue of the Rural Monitor (no longer available online) looked at the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority in Arizona, which aimed to build homes on the reservation and offer education and financial incentives to foster home ownership. In this ATC Update, we look at its gains and challenges over the last ten years.
On the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in east central Arizona, the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority (WMAHA) met its goal in 2006 of building 317 homes using a unique combination of loans, bonds and Indian Housing grants for a project known as Apache Dawn. With the homes all occupied, WMAHA also completed a six-phase water and wastewater infrastructure and initiated the Resident Opportunity Self Sufficiency Program (ROSS) Program to encourage home ownership and a stronger community.
ROSS, funded by Indian Housing Block Grants, includes several components. A Homeowners’ Association improves quality of life and maintains market values. A Neighborhood Watch Program enhances safety. Educational classes help home occupants improve personal finances. The ROSS Individual Development Account (IDA) Program gives financial incentives for saving money to invest in the future.
“Through the ROSS program, we have helped some occupants obtain college degrees or GEDs as well as helping start small businesses,” said Lukaya Fall, WMAHA assistant manager. “We have one young man who has achieved home ownership. We are hoping this young man can inspire other occupants to do the same.”
Native American reservations are among the nation’s “persistently poor rural areas with double-digit poverty rates and high unemployment that contributes to substantial lack of housing or substandard housing,” according to the Housing Assistance Council (HAC). The lack of basic infrastructure, such as plumbing, in reservation homes is more than 10 times the national level.
A mix of complex factors makes home ownership more challenging on the reservation. HAC Senior Policy Analyst Leslie Strauss says banks historically have avoided mortgage lending on trust land. Financing is made more difficult due in part to poor credit ratings that typically accompany poverty and unemployment. Since the 2003 Rural Monitor coverage, the reservation’s unemployment rate has spiraled from 65 to 85 percent.
Fall is proud of WMAHA’s success to date. “We have Apache Dawn occupants who take pride in their home knowing one day, they will be able to own it. These tenants are very reliable and self-sufficient. We hardly ever have problems with occupants. We hope in 2013 we are able to provide more home buyer education classes.”
Back to: Spring 2013 Issue