MESCALERO, N.M. The Mescalero Apache tribe completely missed the home-building bubble of the late 1990s and the early years of this decade.
But the long housing drought has ended for the New Mexico tribe with the dedication this month of 30 single-family homes, the first residential construction on the 460,000-acre Native homeland since 1996.
As is often the case in Indian Country, the I-Sah'-Din'-Dii development, touted as the first fully green American Indian housing project, was financed through myriad sources and took three years from start to finish.
The $10 million rental project was awarded $5.8 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits in 2007 by the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Agency. The tribe contributed nearly $1 million from three years' worth of its annual federal housing block grants.
The mortgage agency also awarded the project $315,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Home program and money from the state agency's housing trust fund. (The agency administers both the tax credits and the Home program for New Mexico.)
The New Mexico Finance Agency (a separate body from the mortgage agency) made a $1 million loan for infrastructure, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs contracted to build roads for the development, which have yet to be built. (Total costs were $7.16 million for development and $2.7 million for infrastructure.)
Raymond James Financial Inc.'s tax credit funds unit was the syndicator for the project's credits, which KeyCorp bought. Investors like Key buy these credits, at a discount to face value, to reduce their federal tax liability.
Tribal president Carleton Naiche-Palmer told a joyous ribbon-cutting assemblage at the Mescalero site that although "every home that is built is a blessing for our people, we still have work to do to accommodate all the people who have a need. I wish and pray we get more houses in here very soon."
He said the 4,500-population tribe, one of two Apache groups with reservations in New Mexico (a third is in Arizona), is plagued by homelessness and overcrowded housing.
Timothy Horan, executive director of the Mescalero Apache Housing Authority, noted that 400 families remain on the tribal housing waiting list, and that some people on the list died before they could get units in the new development. "Our work isn't done," he said.
Jay Czar, executive director of the state mortgage agency, said of I-Sah'-Din'-Dii (which means "drumbeat" in the Apache language): "We want to replicate this around the state and around the country. It's one of the most progressive projects I've seen anywhere." The project, he said, "respects the land" through its green aspects, which include appliances that meet federal Energy Star guidelines and heat-retaining concrete slabs in the 1,325-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes.
Eric Schmieder, an Indian housing specialist at the state mortgage agency, said it has also committed more than $1 million to rehabilitate substandard homes on the reservation.
Its Revive program has granted $500,000 to rehabilitate 14 homes on the reservation, and the agency has also committed $600,000 in Home funds to fix up approximately 50 rental units.
Private mortgage finance remains largely absent on the reservation. Schmieder said he knew of only one mortgage ever done locally. Reservation land is largely held in trust for tribes or individual Indians by the federal government.
Private lenders have been reluctant to lend on Indian land. The Government Accountability Office, an arm of Congress, could find only 92 mortgages made on reservations between 1992 and 1996, and they were at two tribes the Wisconsin Oneida and the Tulalip tribe in Washington state that had equity stakes in local banks.
The pace has picked up a little since then, especially through HUD's Section 184 guaranteed Indian mortgage program, under which more than 3,000 mortgages have closed in the last 15 years.
Secondary mortgage agencies have negotiated memorandums of understanding with tribes (the Fannie Mae-Navajo Nation memorandum being the earliest), and a landmark piece of legislation, the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act of 1996, transferred control of federal housing money from HUD to tribes, and directed them to leverage it with private funding, like mortgages and the low-income-housing tax credits.