First-of-their-kind Studies Create Pathways to Homeownership for Native American Veterans
Three tribal housing entities in South Dakota – Cheyenne River Housing Authority, Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Housing, and Sisseton Wahpeton Housing Authority – recently completed veterans housing needs and homeownership studies in cooperation with their Tribal Veterans Service Officers (TVSOs) in order to identify the housing and service issues most important to veterans on each reservation and to be able to develop tailored programs to help address these collective concerns. It is the first time studies of this caliber have been conducted, and the undertaking is already manifesting results in a number of ways.
“Everything we do is data driven, and it’s hard to find numbers on the reservation. We always ran into the same problem with lack of data,” explains Robert Dunsmore, Tribal Veterans Service Officer (TVSO) for Cheyenne River.
Dunsmore says having their study on hand helped them win a grant award that will support veterans housing projects. “Now we can show the need,” he says.
Echoing Dunsmore, Geri Opsal, the TVSO for Sisseton, expresses difficulty in accessing funding for veterans’ programs because of a lack of data.
“We have to collect data. It’s going to back us up on any endeavor we take on,” she says.
Data published in the studies was collected on each of the reservations through a survey and a focus group involving veterans from a number of different service periods. Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director of Lakota Funds, who participated in the Pine Ridge data collection efforts, says the focus group was especially beneficial.
“It was solution-oriented discussion for things we could do collaboratively,” she says. “And through some of the connections we made at that meeting, we had a veteran close a home loan last week.”
The Pine Ridge study inspired the development of and helped obtain essential funding to launch Lakota Funds’ new matched savings program designed provide down payment assistance for Native American veterans. One participant has already enrolled in the program.
The matched savings program will also provide one-on-one assistance to help Native veterans through the homeownership process, something that Kevin Klingbeil, Managing Director at Big Water Consulting (the firm that conducted the studies), says is a critical finding in the studies.
“One of the key things that has helped Native vets be successful in purchasing a home was having someone who cared and who helped walk them through the process and the paperwork,” says Klingbeil.
Opsal says the Veteran’s Affairs Native American Direct Loan (NADL) is a great mortgage product because it has such a low interest rate, but the process can be arduous and people need encouragement to keep moving through it. She hopes to utilize the studies to inform policies that will streamline the NADL process.
Dunsmore sees the baseline data provided in the studies as a beginning. “We’re moving in the right direction. It’s time to start showing things – not talking about it. Once we start showing what we can do, better things will come.”
Klingbeil says, “We treated this project as the first of its kind so that we could create a model survey instrument. Then other groups or tribes could use it going forward.”
The South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition commissioned the studies with funding support from Enterprise Community Partners and plans to launch a second round of studies sometime in the future. In the near-term, the Coalition will provide a platform for collaboration to explore strategies that will increase homeownership rates for Native American veterans throughout the state.
“We’re creating this baseline through the Coalition, and we’re going to build from that. One of our immediate actions will be collaborating with other TVSOs,” says Opsal.
Take a Look at the Studies!
Download each reservation’s report by clicking below.
Download a cumulative report of all three reservations by clicking below.