Congressional Record Statement
Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
United States Senate
Native American Veteran Housing Loan Program
April 27, 2005
Mr. President, today I rise to offer legislation that would make the Native American Veteran Housing Loan Pilot Program permanent. In April 1992, I sponsored a bill that established the Native American Veteran Housing Loan Pilot Program. That bill later became Public Law 102-547 and authorized the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish a pilot program that would provide veterans with assistance in purchasing, constructing, and improving homes through 1997. This pilot program has been extended several times. In fact, last Session Congress extended this pilot program by three years.
Through January of this year, 443 loans were created under this program. It is time to make this program permanent.
Mr. President, the Native American home ownership rate is about half the rate of the general U.S. population. This issue partially stems from the fact that lenders generally require that buyers own the parcel of land on which their homes will be located. This is difficult for many in Indian Country, Alaska, and Hawaii because their homes are on trust lands. Most lenders decline these loan applications because Federal law prohibits a lender from taking possession of Native trust lands in the event of a default. Several Federal programs have been developed to provide home ownership opportunities to Native Americans. The Native American Veteran Housing Loan Program is one such program that has helped to make home ownership a reality for indigenous peoples, particularly Native Hawaiians.
Under this program, VA offers loan guaranties that protect lenders against loss up to the amount of the guaranty if the borrower fails to repay the loan. Previous to the Native American Veteran Housing Loan Program, Native American veterans who resided on these lands were unable to qualify for VA home-loan benefits. With the Native American Veteran Housing Loan Program, indigenous peoples residing on trust lands are now able to use this very important VA benefit.
The Native American Veteran Housing Loan Program is intended to serve veterans who are eligible for homes under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, and who reside on Pacific Islands lands that have been communally owned by cultural tradition and on Native American trust lands on the continental United States. This VA-administered program assists Native American veterans by providing them direct loans to build or purchase homes on such lands.
Before VA can make a loan on tribal trust land, the tribe must enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with VA to clarify some of the issues that could arise when administering the program. During fiscal year 2004, VA entered into two Memoranda of Understanding with tribal entities. In addition, VA is currently negotiating nine Memoranda of Understanding with Native American tribes. Trust lands that are eligible for this program include tribally and individually held trusts. Per a Memorandum of Understanding between VA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), VA and BIA Regional Offices work to implement this loan program together. Additionally, VA personnel continue to conduct outreach with tribal representatives to solicit assistance in reaching out to tribal members who are veterans.
Mr. President, per capita, Native Americans have the highest percentage of people serving in the United States Armed Forces. While they represent less that 1 percent of the population, they make up 1.6 percent of the Armed Forces. I want to reiterate that through January of 2005, 443 loans have been made to Native Americans under this program. This allows those who have served our nation so honorably and their families to be a part of the American Dream of home ownership. We need to make the Native American Veteran Housing Loan permanent this year.
Thank you. I ask that the full text of the bill be placed in the Record.