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Pulling It All Together: What Would It Take?

Pulling It All Together: What Would It Take?

MODULE 12: Pulling It All Together: What Would It Take?

What Would It Take?

What Would It Take?

Through our course, we have looked at some key pieces of homeownership, including:

  • Tribal leadership support

  • Needs assessments

  • Homebuyer readiness programming

  • Navigating land issues

  • Loan products

  • Community planning

  • Construction and design

  • Affordability

As we’ve seen, it’s not necessarily a step-by-step process, and it may seem overwhelming. But it’s important to remember that you don’t need to tackle each step at once, and it’s important to identify partners that can support some of the pieces.

At this point, we’ll come back to our overarching question:

What would it take to build new communities, and remake old ones, so reservations move more positively toward meeting housing needs and bolstering economic development?

We’ll focus on translating what we’ve discussed into manageable steps that you can take back to your community, pulling together the information we’ve shared, identifying and addressing potential challenges that you anticipate, and outlining concrete, doable next steps.

Before we begin pulling it all together, let’s take a look at one more inspiring comprehensive community development program, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation.


Homeownership Assessment

Homeownership Assessment

Now that we’ve discussed different components of homeownership, let’s assess where we are. What pieces are in place? Where are the gaps? Are there additional potential partners we should note?



Has the tribe or a tribal entity conducted a housing needs assessment recently?

Who can we partner with to conduct a housing needs assessment?

Who can teach financial education classes?

Who can teach homebuyer education classes?

Who can conduct homebuyer counseling?

Who can assist families in improving credit?

Are any partners providing financial coaching?

Is the tribe/Tribally Designated Housing Entity (TDHE) thinking about a subdivision or scattered sites?

Are leases in place? Will families need to obtain leaseholds?

Are tribal families familiar with the process of obtaining a lease?

What infrastructure will be necessary (septics, lagoon, water line, wells, roads)?

Who can we partner with on these pieces?

Who can work with families to complete mortgage applications?

Do you know which mortgage lending products are available for families?

Do you know which subsidies are available for families?

Are there relationships in place with mortgage lenders?

Do you need to develop new policies, partnerships, or relationships to tackle these pieces?

Is there an architect on board to support homeownership efforts?

Is there an engineer on board to support homeownership efforts?

Have floor plans been developed?

Who will carry out construction (force account, contractors, other company)?

Who can we partner with on these pieces?


Identifying Challenges

Identifying Challenges

We recognize that homeownership in Native communities is challenging. At this point, building on our revised assessments, we’ll start to identify potential challenges and roadblocks. The more we can identify these challenges from the outset, the better our chances of overcoming them.

Thinking about homeownership in your community, what do you see as a potential roadblock or challenge?



Homeownership Priorities and Next Steps

Homeownership Priorities and Next Steps

Based on your assessments and the strategies that you’ve developed to overcome potential barriers, as a final activity in this course, document some concrete next steps you can take to develop or expand homeownership opportunities in your community. As we’ve seen, there are many components to homeownership, and it’s impossible to tackle each of them simultaneously. We encourage you to prioritize to outline your three top next steps.



Key pieces we have in place:

Initial priority area(s) to develop:

Potential key partners:

What technical assistance is needed?







Case Study: Bristol Bay Housing Authority


Alaska Native Homeownership
Bristol Bay Housing Authority, Dillingham, Alaska



Bristol Bay Housing Authority


Alaska Native Homeownership


Bristol Bay Region of Alaska


Approx. 5,200 or 70% of total region population




$5.1 million in 2017


The Bristol Bay Housing Authority (BBHA) was founded in 1974 and is the Tribally Designated Housing Entity (TDHE) for 31 villages in the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska. BBHA headquarters are in Dillingham, Alaska, and its service territory includes three census areas:

  • Bristol Bay Borough

  • Lake and Peninsula Borough

  • Dillingham Census Area

BBHA’s mission is to “promote affordable housing for the Bristol Bay region.” They administer Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) and Alaska Housing Finance Corporation funds and work with USDA Rural Development and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). They provide single and multifamily housing, as well as leverage mortgages to increase homeownership. Tribal members in the region served by BBHA are Aleut, Athabascan, Yupik Eskimo, and American Indian.

While the economy of the Bristol Bay region is better than many other parts of rural Alaska, local Natives still live in poverty with limited infrastructure and poor housing conditions. Housing in Bristol Bay is aging, poorly designed and constructed, structurally unsafe, energy inefficient, and unhealthy due to mold and poor indoor air quality. Moreover, there is simply not enough housing, leading to tremendous overcrowding.

Housing in rural Alaska differs from much of Indian Country in the Lower 48 in many ways:

  • Extreme remoteness of the regions, resulting in high construction costs.

  • Significant climate changes, resulting in excessively high heating costs, which in turn create housing burdens often exceeding the 30 percent threshold.

As a result, BBHA and other Alaska housing organizations have responded to these extremes through design features that keep construction and energy costs down.

Project Description

The BBHA is a recognized leader in promoting mortgages and homeownership for tribal members in Alaska.

Prior to the 1996 enactment of NAHASDA, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) managed the housing program for the region, and the outcomes were poor and unresponsive to local conditions, needs, and the tribal economy. Houses were built in Anacortes, WA, shipped by barge to Bristol Bay, and erected in straight rows with little regard to design or cultural considerations. Jobs and economic development associated with home construction were, of course, lost to the region.

With the new resources provided by NAHASDA, the BBHA Board embraced the opportunities to improve and increase housing in the region. Over the years, BBHA added in-house expertise. Today, BBHA constructs its own housing, consults with tribes in the region on their design, and utilizes the local workforce in the region. The result is housing that is culturally responsive, bolsters local economies, and builds the skills of tribal members.

BBHA also challenged the way HUD provided housing to Alaska Natives. Instead of providing only subsidized rental housing, BBHA began to promote homeownership as a way to relieve overcrowdedness and enhance economic development. The key tool for this program is a standard mortgage model. Mutual Help (subsidized) housing is still an option for tribal members, with a priority for families with extremely limited financial means and for homes still under contract.

The reasons for promoting mortgages are much the same in Alaska as in the rest of Indian Country. There is simply not enough federal, state, and other grant dollars to provide the housing needed in Native village communities. In addition, mortgages provide another source of capital to the community, which can be leveraged or stretched with other funds, such as NAHASDA, BIA, and other housing resources.

In the case of BBHA, their approach was to leverage the USDA Rural Development 502 Direct Program with a buy-down, or “soft second” from Indian Block Grant funds, to make the mortgages more affordable.

With the additional capital from mortgage loans, BBHA was able to provide housing to many more families. Even though village poverty remains high, it does not mean that many families can’t afford a modest mortgage payment. In small villages, even one new home is good for the entire community.

The board continues to provide leadership in several ways, including the allocation of funds for mortgages or mortgage buy-downs as part of their Indian Housing Plan.

Promising Approach

BBHA’s mortgage model has worked very well for the past several years. The key ingredients to this success:

  • Strong Native leaders: BBHA’s willingness to pull away from the Mutual Help rent-to-own model and prioritize homeownership would not be possible without the sanction of Native leaders in the region.

  • Strong partnerships: BBHA collaborates with many other organizations in the region – Bristol Bay Native Association, area Native corporations and health organizations, tribal and local governments, and fishing organizations.

  • Multiple funding sources: BBHA utilizes the USDA Rural Development 502 Direct Loan Program, HUD Section 184 loan guarantee program, and the BIA Housing Improvement Program, Category D. Economy of the region.

  • Housing design: Keeping construction costs down requires a concerted effort and intentional planning – getting land donated, promoting subdivisions as opposed to scattered site development, employing innovative construction techniques, and paying careful attention to the seasons and construction schedule. The homes built by BBHA crews achieve a six-star energy rating. Wind, solar, and heat pumps are also being used to lower costs.

  • Innovative approaches: Using community and environmentally conscious design and construction, as well as employing local workforces.

  • Consistency: The current administration of BBHA builds on the mortgage approach from previous BBHA management.

  • Understanding the financial needs of the communities: Familiarity with debt among tribal members is critical. Bristol Bay has a strong fishing economy, enabling tribal members to fare somewhat better; however, tribal members who are benefitting from the local economy have high costs for fishing boats, permits, and other transaction costs.

  • Services to tribal members: The program is marketed to 28 villages. Homebuyer readiness classes are mandatory. BBHA also offers post-purchase counseling, budgeting, and home maintenance advice. BBHA also provides a one-year warranty for the homes they build.


  • Leveraging opportunities: The housing problems in the Native villages are severe. More newly constructed, energy efficient homes are necessary, and additional capital investment in the form of mortgage financing is a promising approach to building more homes.

  • Challenge the stereotypes: The impression that all of Native, rural Alaska is too poor to afford mortgages has been challenged by BBHA. There are in fact families in many villages who can afford a reasonable mortgage. Even one new home in overcrowded village housing helps the entire village.

  • Cost control by housing design: The cost of heating fuel in rural Alaska is very high. The savings afforded by a new energy-efficient home can go a long way toward paying a mortgage.

  • Replicability: This model is replicable across Indian Country.

  • Pride: Homeownership is a source of pride, self-esteem, belonging, and stability for many tribal members.

  • Viable and healthy Native communities: Good housing is the foundation of healthy, viable Native communities, and mortgages provide another way for tribal members to return to their communities and attract education, health, and other professionals to live there.

Lessons Learned

  • Patient approach with tribal members: Many tribal members have never thought that homeownership was possible for them. Others are uncomfortable with banks and debt. There is a high need for basic financial literacy. BBHA strives to be responsive to the needs of tribal members and meet them where they are on the journey to homeownership.

  • Challenge assumptions: BBHA model challenges assumptions, both internally and externally, about both tribal members as homeowners and the options that are available in remote villages with extreme conditions, including the climate but also poverty, isolation, and employment.

  • Take the long view: BBHA work and experience to date with a homeownership model has evolved over a 25-year period.

  • The “art of the possible”: BBHA leadership since 1993 has not been satisfied by the status quo and has methodically implemented their vision through innovation and creativity to meet the changing needs of the people in the region.

  • Tribal members want options: BBHA made a conscious decision to provide alternative asset building options for housing for tribal members and many have responded.

Ongoing Challenges

  • Aversion to debt: Many tribal members are uncomfortable and lack familiarity with debt.

  • Responsive lenders: The traditional financial industry could do a better job of promoting homeownership and providing loans in rural Alaska.

  • Funding threatened: Under the current administration, the USDA Rural Development 502 Direct Loan Program is being challenged.

  • Cash flow: Cash in the local economy is very scarce.

  • Limited infrastructure: High need for subsidy due to high construction costs and other factors.

  • Land status: Alaska is different from the Lower 48 due to the absence of a small amount of trust lands. The cumbersome leasing process by the BIA is not an impediment, but other land status and availability issues exist in Alaska, which create real challenges to land use and development.

  • Financial industry responsiveness: There is a huge gap in the availability of private financing for mortgages to tribal members in the Bristol Bay region.

On the Horizon

Stay the course: Under its current leadership, BBHA will continue to promote the promise of homeownership in the region, strengthen its collaborative relationships with all partners, and continue to innovate with funding, housing, design, and construction.

This interactive workbook was developed to help individuals and leaders in native communities build their capacity to deliver homeownership opportunities to those they serve.
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