President Clinton visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on Wednesday to examine the deteriorating housing and to sound the call for building homeownership in Indian country.
His visit was part of a four-day tour of some of the nation's poorest areas.
The Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe lives in the poorest county in the nation, and the Pine Ridge reservation is one of two targets that the government has identified for its one-stop mortgage center initiative.
The other area where the government program is being implemented is the Navajo reservation,which includes parts of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.
The program, led by the Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, aims to streamline mortgage lending on tribal trust lands. President Clinton began the initiative last summer.
President Clinton said unemployment on reservations, the lack of banks, and overcrowding need to be addressed. "There is no more crucial building block for a strong community and a promising future than a solid home," he told the audience of business executives, members of Congress, and tribal- members.
The big obstacle to mortgage lending on tribal land is that the land is held in trust for tribes by the federal government. This means titles cannot be transferred in the event of a foreclosure. But Native American tribes, lenders, and government agencies are working to change this.
Some companies announced programs designed to foster lending in Indian country. Banc One Capital Markets and George K. Baum & Co., both municipal securities underwriters, announced they would underwrite $300 million in bonds each year for five years to create a market for reservation mortgages.
The MBA announced a partnership with HUD to help increase the rate of homeownership on Indian reservations. The trade group said it will work with HUD and with major lenders to originate 1,000 mortgage loans for purchases on Indian lands over the next three years.
Norwest Mortgage, Fannie Mae, and the Oglala Sioux have also signed a $1 million agreement to offer low-down-payment conventional mortgages to members of the tribe for buying homes on tribal trust land.
Fannie Mae opened a partnership office in South Dakota early in the week with a $500 million, five-year investment plan for the entire state. Fannie said it would invest more than $3 million over the next five years to help the Oglala Sioux. Investment activity will come through Fannie's American Communities Fund, a community development venture capital fund.
The Mortgage Insurance Companies of America also said its members would insure an additional $37 million in mortgages on reservations to enable Native Americans to obtain mortgages with low down payments.
Chester Carl, the president of the National American Indian Housing Council and executive director of the Navajo Housing Authority, welcomed the President's visit to Pine Ridge.
"Native Americans are our first citizens, but last in terms of housing," Mr. Carl said in a written statement that noted how rare homeownership is for Native Americans. Between 1992 and 1996 only 91 conventional mortgage loans were made on Indian reservations, he said, adding that there is a need for 200,000 homes in Indian country.