A bill sponsored by U.S. Representative Martin Heinrich (NM-1) to remove barriers between Native American families and homeownership passed the House of Representatives today by a unanimous vote. The bill, the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act (H.R. 205), would allow tribes to exercise greater control over their lands and eliminate bureaucratic delays that stand in the way of homeownership and economic development in tribal communities.
"We all know how important homeownership is to healthy communities, and the last thing the federal government should do is stand in the way of families ready and willing to buy a house," said Rep. Heinrich, currently serving his second term on the House Committee on Natural Resources. "There are many Native families who would prefer to stay and raise their children in the communities where their families have lived for generations--but instead have had to move from Indian Country to nearby cities because they want to own a home. Families shouldn't be forced to make such an important decision based on how many months or years it will take a federal bureaucracy to approve a mortgage on tribal land."
The HEARTH Act would expedite the surface lease approval process by allowing tribal governments to approve trust land leases directly, rather than waiting for approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The HEARTH Act would remove existing bureaucratic obstacles and delays prospective Native American home buyers encounter when seeking approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to buy a home on tribal land.
Since he first introduced the HEARTH Act in 2009, Rep. Heinrich has worked closely with pueblos, tribes and housing organizations across the country that have advocated for its passage.
"The HEARTH Act will make it possible for a home loan to close in a matter of weeks in Pueblo country," said Governor Arlen P. Quetawki, Pueblo of Zuni. "The last two home loans in Zuni Pueblo have taken close to a year to close. Years from now we will say, "this was simply unacceptable.'"
"Mortgage lending has made it possible for our tribal members to have homes on their lands," said Lieutenant Governor Edward Paul Torres Sr., Pueblo of Isleta. "The HEARTH Act is a statement that Indian people know best how lending should occur on our lands."
The bill would also help jumpstart economic development in Native communities by making it easier for businesses to lease land from tribes. Under current rules, companies often have to wait years for BIA approval of a lease, leading many businesses to choose to locate elsewhere where they can buy or lease a site in a matter of weeks.
"NCAI is very appreciative of Representative Heinrich for taking the lead on the HEARTH Act and passing the bill in House with the incredible support of Representatives Hastings, Markey, Young, Boren, Cole and Kildee and all the co-sponsors," said National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Jefferson Keel. "The bill offers Indian tribes a new option in their efforts to resolve the longstanding barriers to effective leasing of tribal lands. The expedited leasing process will help tribes bring new businesses and the jobs that come with them to their communities."
"Today's House of Representatives' passage of the HEARTH Act is a great victory for tribal housing programs in New Mexico and throughout Indian Country," said Floyd Tortalita, National American Indian Housing Council Vice Chairman and Acoma Housing Authority Executive Director. "This bill promotes self-determination by giving tribes the opportunity to handle their own long-term leasing, and will expand housing opportunities for more tribal members -- especially those who may not be currently assisted through NAHASDA."
The HEARTH Act now goes to the United States Senate for consideration.