How Can Native American Veterans Gain Access to a Benefit They Earned?

June 15, 2015

By Craig Nolte

A federal program exists to provide more homeownership opportunities for Native Americans veterans on Indian reservations, yet less than one in six of the over 570 federally-recognized tribes have accessed the program.  This is a program that Native American Veterans have earned but relatively few are able to enjoy the benefit.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a Native American Direct Loan (NADL) program for eligible tribal members whose tribe has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the agency.  The program offers several advantages over conventional and other government lending programs, making the program attractive to tribal members who are Veterans. 

Many tribal members living on Indian reservations continue to lack access to mortgage loans, which may contribute to the comparatively low homeownership rate of 54% on Indian reservations versus the 65% national average.  Homes on Indian reservations are also three times as likely to be overcrowded, and 11 times as likely to have insufficient plumbing, as homes situated off reservations, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

While the VA’s Home Loan Guaranty benefit is available to all Veterans, the NADL Program is a homeownership option designed specifically for Native American Veterans living on trust land. The program does not require a down payment or private mortgage insurance, has a low fixed interest rate, low closing costs, and borrowing limits  up to $417,000 in most areas, and can be used more than once during a Veteran’s lifetime.  A tribal member may use the program to purchase, build, or improve a home located on Federal trust land.  They may also refinance a direct loan already made under this program to lower their interest rate. 

Native Americans served in the military before they were granted US citizenship in 1924.  Between 1917 and 1918 approximately 10,000 Native Americans enlisted into the military to serve in World War I.  Today, approximately 20,000 Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Pacific Islanders serve in the military, and while the Native American/Alaska Native population represents less than one percent of the population of the United States, they make up about 1.6 percent of the armed forces.  Many tribes have a much higher enlistment percentage.

This Spring, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and its agency partners met with tribal council members and tribal staff throughout the Northwest to discuss common challenges to homeownership on Indian reservations.  Participants at the meetings compared different loan programs, including the NADL program, and discussed other ways to increase access to homeownership on Indian reservations.

How can Native American Veterans gain access to the NADL program?

  • Help ensure that tribes, as sovereign governments, have sufficient information to discuss any challenges to entering into an MOU with the VA to allow their eligible Veteran tribal members access to the program.
  • Heighten awareness of the program to tribal members through homeownership workshops, Veteran activities, tribal newsletters and other local media.
  • Maintain information on the NADL program at appropriate tribal government departments.

The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Federal Reserve System.