Legislation sponsored by U.S. Representative Martin Heinrich (NM-1) to remove barriers between Native American families and homeownership cleared the Senate 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.
"This is about building homes, creating jobs and protecting tribal sovereignty," said Rep. Heinrich. "Indian Country faces a serious housing shortage, and this bill will help bring new investment in housing and economic development to tribal communities across New Mexico. The HEARTH Act will give tribes the authority to make their own decisions about leases for homes and businesses on their tribal lands. The last thing the federal government should do is stand in the way of a family who wants to buy a home, and this bill will help make it easier for Native families to buy houses in the communities where their families have lived for generations."
First introduced by Rep. Heinrich in 2009, 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.
"I congratulate Rep. Heinrich for building strong bipartisan support for this important legislation, which will greatly benefit New Mexico's tribes," Senator Jeff Bingaman said.
"Congressman Heinrich deserves a lot of credit for his hard work on getting this bill passed through both chambers," said Senator Tom Udall. "It's an important piece of legislation to promote economic development and combat the housing crisis on Native lands."
"Homeownership is part of the American Dream, and it builds stronger communities and stronger families," Congressman Ben Ray Luján said. "The passage of the HEARTH Act addresses the needs of tribal communities and allows their members to move forward with economic and housing opportunities by removing the bureaucratic barriers that make it harder to buy a home and start a business on tribal land."
"I applaud the Senate for passing the HEARTH Act," said Congressman Steve Pearce. "This bill will reduce the red tape that tribes constantly face while attempting to do something as basic as open a small business or build a home. Streamlining bureaucracy is an absolute necessity for growing our economy, and the HEARTH Act will create an environment where enterprises can thrive, jobs are created, and individuals have access to affordable homes in a timely fashion."
"Today's 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 Region VIII Board Member 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 hold the dream of homeownership."
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.
Representatives Ben Ray Luján (NM-3) and Steve Pearce (NM-2) are cosponsors of H.R. 205. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall are cosponsors of the companion bill in the Senate, S. 703. The HEARTH Act passed in the House of Representatives by a unanimous vote on May 15, 2012. The bill now goes to the President of the United States.