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Understanding the Housing Needs of an Underserved Community

Native Americans are among some of the most underserved populations of homebuyers and face challenges such as poor or thin credit, lack of resources and are mostly inexperienced with the homebuying process. However, according to a study by Fannie Mae, homeownership is extremely important to this segment of the population despite these challenges.

Fannie Mae recently conducted individual interviews with a small sample of lower-income Native Americans to better understand their unique cultural views on homeownership, including the motivation and barriers to owning their own home. "When it comes to housing finance [Native Americans] are considered one of the most underserved populations in the country," wrote Kellie Coffey, Product Development Manager, Rural Initiatives at Fannie Mae, on the GSE's Perspectives blog, which published some of the key findings of this study.

The study found that the participants interviewed said that their desire for homeownership was primarily driven by a desire for independence and privacy and homeownership was not generally viewed as a means of building wealth. "Participants feel deeply connected to the land and their pueblo and take pride in their cultural traditions of making others feel welcome. A strong responsibility to care for their elders and extended families results in ensuring that there is a family home," Coffey wrote.

The study also revealed that for Native Americans, feeling safe, secure, and guided through the entire home purchase process was a key emotional need. It indicated that though the process of buying a home on tribal land could often take years and was a complex transaction, most of the people interviewed did not find these factors as barriers to homeownership. In fact, the study found that many actively participated in the construction or renovation of their homes.

The decision to live on tribal land, the study found, was driven by the desire to stay close to family and tribal culture as well as the benefits of lower cost of living, given that there was no cost for the land itself and homes on tribal land are not subject to property taxes.

"Our research indicates that Native American families pride themselves on their identity, as well as their cultural and emotional connection to their home, their people, and their land," Coffey wrote. "These beliefs support and reinforce their overall commitment to homeownership. While there are many white papers on the homeownership challenges Native Americans face, this research provides unique and rare insight into what "homeownership" means for tribal members themselves."

About Author: Radhika Ojha

Radhika Ojha, Online Editor at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Pune, India, where she received her B.A. in Commerce with a concentration in Accounting and Marketing and an M.A. in Mass Communication. Upon completion of her master’s degree, Ojha worked at a national English daily publication in India (The Indian Express) where she was a staff writer in the cultural and arts features section. Ojha also worked as Principal Correspondent at HT Media Ltd and at Honeywell as an executive in corporate communications. She and her husband currently reside in Dallas, Texas. You can contact her at Radhika.Ojha@theMReport.com.
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