Norwest Mortgage has launched a home loan program for Native Americans living on reservations in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Nebraska.

The pilot program for the three-state area helps reduce loan approval time for Native Americans living on five million acres of allotted trust land.

The first mortgage was issued last month to a Native American woman in Pine Ridge, S.D., where there is an Oglala Sioux reservation with more than 12,000 people, said Robert Skjonsberg, account executive for community development lending at Norwest Mortgage in Pierre, S.D.

The woman's mortgage took the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is working with Norwest and the Department of Housing and Urban Development on the program, just 30 days to process, said Cora Jones, the bureau's director for the pilot-test area. Previously, it would have taken six months to a year, she said.

American Indians are "finally getting part of the American dream of homeownership," Ms. Jones said.

Sixteen Native American groups live within the test area, Ms. Jones said. Three of the United States' poorest counties-Shannon, Todd, and Ziebach-are within the test area in South Dakota, she said.

To date, Ms. Jones said, most pilot program activity has been in the southern part of the test area.

Private financial institutions have been uncomfortable about making mortgages on reservation land because it is held in trust by the federal government, she said. When Native Americans did apply for loans, "more often than not they were turned down," she said.

HUD is guaranteeing the mortgages that Norwest issues so that they can be sold in the secondary market. The Bureau of Indian Affairs must give its stamp of approval when a potential borrower living on trust land wants a mortgage.

"We're speeding up the process," said Ms. Jones. The bureau's central office has set a goal of processing its part of the loan approval in less than 10 days, she noted.

The program is similar to a conventional mortgage program, but unique legal structures exist on trust land. In addition to financial information, copies of tribal documentation must be requested from the bureau.

It takes 50 to 70 days to close a mortgage on individual trust land, including the 30 to 45 days for Bureau of Indian Affairs processing, said Mr. Skjonsberg. The program is open to other lenders, he said, but none has closed this type of loan in South Dakota.

Norwest's program is designed specifically to make mortgages on individual trust land, which is owned by a tribal member. Mortgages can be made on this land, with federal approval.

Norwest Mortgage has offices in two banks on the Rosebud Reservation and the Lower Brule Reservation in South Dakota, Mr. Skjonsberg said. In the past year, it has closed about 22 loans for Native Americans in the pilot- test area, he said.

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