City Desk

Big Sky Connection - Homeownership for Native Americans lags behind other populations in Montana and across the country. One local expert says banks often are reluctant to lend to people living on reservations. Comments from Darrell LaMere (la-MEER), loan officer, Native American Development Corporation, which is based in Billings.

Click on the image above for the audio. - Native Americans make up about 6% of Montana's population. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Eric Tegethoff

June 8, 2022

After a history of forcible removal from their land, Native Americans now struggle to own homes.

Until recently, indigenous people had little recourse against discrimination in housing policies. The 1968 Fair Housing Act has helped. However, data from Prosperity Now showed that only 45% of Native Americans in Montana own their homes, compared with nearly 70% of white residents.

Darrell LaMere, a loan officer at the Billings-based Native American Development Corp., said the pandemic and current housing crunch have made this issue worse.

"Affordability, availability, substandard housing - just everything about the housing market is terrible on reservations," he said. "Housing is in dire straits right now, on every reservation in Montana."

LaMere said housing is a big part of economic development, adding that he thinks one priority should be to help prospective borrowers improve poor credit scores or negative credit reports, which otherwise can doom their chances of qualifying for a mortgage loan.

LaMere said some major banks don't work with people on reservations. It's reminiscent of the practice of redlining, when banks would discriminate against people based on their race or neighborhood. He says there also are some legal differences for reservations.

"We are considered sovereign countries," he said, "and some banks are reluctant to invest on reservations, simply because of the foreclosure issue."

He explained that part of the concern is that some tribes don't have foreclosure laws, so it can be more difficult for banks to recover their losses if a homeowner defaults.

Some financial institutions including the NADC are working with these borrowers to improve their chances. LaMere noted there's also 1st Tribal Lending, which can provide loans through the Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program. It's a product of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"A conventional bank would look at your credit score and look at your credit report. If it was bad, they would say, 'No, we can't give you a loan.' But 1st Tribal Lending will work with you. So, they do help people with compromised credit reports and credit histories."

HUD data from 2017 showed the program had guaranteed more than 37,000 loans.

Click on the image above for the audio.

PNS - Wednesday, June 8, 2022   Students, Teachers join nationwide action to demand gun-safety steps; low homeownership rates hurt MT Native Americans; TX Supporters of Castner Range renew calls for National Monument status.

Announcing the 105th Granite Mountain Memorial Celebration that will occur on June 11, 2022.  If possible, please alert your readers to the upcoming event. 

In remembrance of the greatest loss of life in recorded hard rock mining history, the service will be held Saturday, June 11, 2022, at 2:00 pm at the Granite Mountain Memorial. The Granite Mountain Memorial is an open-air plaza dedicated to the 168 men killed in hard rock mining's worst disaster.  It offers the visitor a panoramic view of headframes, the east ridge, ongoing mining activities, and the interpretation of the events, people, and turbulent times that surrounded the catastrophic Granite Mountain/Speculator Mine Fire of June 8, 1917.  The service will honor the 168 men who died in the fire.

The location of the Granite Mountain Memorial can be found at the top of North Main Street just past St Lawrence Church.  Head east on Bernie Way and follow the road to the Memorial.

The Memorial was officially dedicated on June 8, 1996. Butte resident Gerry Walter researched the fire and was the driving force behind the construction of the Memorial. Funding for the Memorial's construction was received from the Environmental Protection Agency, ARCO, BSB government and citizens of Butte.

This year will be the 105th Anniversary. The memorial service will include the blowing of the original whistle from the Granite Mountain Mine.  Tad Dale is the owner of the whistle and has offered to bring the whistle to the memorial for the service.  Also, there will be the flag raising service and a short program.  The Granite Mountain Board invites the community to attend the service.

If people are interested in purchasing a brick at the site, please contact Gerry Walter at 406-494-3841 or the Butte-Silver Bow Archives at 406-497-6226.

Big Sky Connection  Housing prices are rising in Montana, leading to an affordability crisis, but help is available, especially for people facing eviction. Comments from Andrea (on-DRAY-uh) Davis, executive director, Homeword in Missoula; and Amy Hall, attorney, Montana Legal Services Association.

Click on the image above for the audio. With the pandemic inspiring people to move to Montana, the state can't build fast enough to keep up. (Jim/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

June 7, 2022

Montanans across the state are facing a housing crisis. Prices both to rent and buy a place to live have skyrocketed, leaving vacancy rates extremely low in cities big and small.

Homeword in Missoula is a housing organization which has built affordable properties for about 2,000 people since 1994. It is also a housing counseling agency and provides education for first-time homebuyers.

Andrea Davis, the group's executive director said the housing market is making it hard, even for businesses.

"We have a lot of businesses that are either expanding or new businesses that are relocating here," Davis pointed out. "But they are absolutely stymied by the ability for their workers to find homes."

Montana saw an influx of people at the beginning of the pandemic, inspiring "Zoom towns" where people could work remotely and be near the state's many outdoor activities.

Amy Hall, housing services attorney for the Montana Legal Services Association, said the lack of housing also means a rise in evictions. Her organization partnered with the Montana Department of Commerce to create the Montana Eviction Intervention Project, which uses federal CARES Act funding.

"We assist renters by defending them in eviction-court actions filed by landlords," Hall explained. "And in helping those tenants by providing what we call housing-stability services."

Hall noted there is assistance available immediately for people facing an eminent eviction through Montana Emergency Rental Assistance (MERA) dollars, which can also help landlords.

"The MERA funds are a good deal for tenants because it helps them avoid eviction," Hall emphasized. "And it's a good deal for landlords because they're able to recoup the funds that the tenant's not able to pay themselves."

Hall added unfortunately, there are barriers to stopping an eviction, and once a person or family is evicted, it can make it harder to find a new place to live.

Davis stressed there are ways Montana can help in this crisis, such as ensuring more housing density rather than single-family homes in cities. She also pointed out the federal government has proved it can provide emergency funding and should continue it by providing more in rental subsidies.

"When people have rental assistance, and they're able to make their rents, then they're able to do all the other things in their lives, including contribute to society economically, right?" Davis asked. "They can afford their job, they can afford to get their kiddos to child care, to school, all of the above."