The Salish and Kootenai Housing Authority (SKHA) serves all residents residing within the boundaries of the Flathead Reservation. The Flathead Reservation is home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) in northwestern Montana.
SKHA currently manages nearly 700 housing units including rental, 50 units of Tenant-Based Assistance, an 80-lot trailer park, and the homeownership program.
Established in 1963 by Tribal Council action, the SKHA operates as an independent tribal entity. SKHA now is overseen by a seven-member Board of Commissioners appointed by the Tribal Council.
The SKHA executive director has oversight over six different departments: Finance, Administration, Housing Resource, Occupancy, Maintenance and Water, and the Sewer Department. In addition, all housing programs and services have been consolidated into the Housing Authority’s portfolio, including the BIA’s Housing Improvement Program (HIP), Weatherization Program, Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG) Program, and the Tribe’s water/sewer systems. With the transfer of the Indian Health Service Construction (IHS 121) Program, including the project engineer and inspector staff, all housing services are unified into one program, making it easier to serve the community and for the membership to access tribal programs.
Collectively these programs chart the course for the future of homeownership on the Flathead Reservation.
This case study focuses on the Flathead Finance Program for homebuyer readiness and education.
SKHA clients interested in buying a home are required to complete the Flathead Finance Program, comprised of four major components:
- Application and Intake
- Action Planning
- Homebuyer Counseling and Readiness Education
- Foreclosure Counseling and Prevention
Application and Intake. Here, clients use worksheets to compile their income, outstanding credit card and other debt, and current credit scores. They then compute their total household income and complete an initial household budget. All the information about the Flathead Finance Program, the intake form, and other client worksheets are available online or can be requested from SKHA staff.
Action Planning. Once the application and intake process is completed, the client enters into the Action Planning phase with SKHA staff. Information from the completed intake forms and worksheets are reviewed and an in-person interview is scheduled. During this initial meeting, SKHA staff work with the client to develop an Action Plan that includes, at minimum:
- A detailed household budget
- An analysis of the client’s credit history
- A credit repair plan, if necessary
- A strategy for savings for down payment, closing costs, and post-purchase expenses
The intake forms and worksheets provide SKHA staff with information to determine the client’s eligibility for down payment and closing cost assistance.
- Clients with no or poor credit histories who are not likely to qualify for a mortgage in the near term are counseled toward a long-term action plan.
- Clients who are “mortgage ready” but lack the required credit history for a bank loan are referred to CSKT Tribal Credit Department for further assistance.
- Clients who are mortgage-ready at intake are provided information about local banks from whom they can apply for mortgages.
Several banks offer loan products on the Flathead Reservation. Three reservation-based banks are certified HUD 184 lenders:
- Eagle Bank, owned by CSKT
- Valley Bank
- Glacier Bank
SKHA does not advocate for a specific loan product or refer the client to a particular bank.
Homebuyer Education Class
The Flathead Finance Program for homebuyer readiness and education is based on the Pathways Home curriculum, a comprehensive homebuyer education program sponsored by the National American Indian Housing Council designed to help educate prospective native homebuyers on how to become successful homeowners. The curriculum is specifically tailored for Native American communities.
The training begins with a pre-test to assess each participant’s baseline knowledge, and then moves into eight modules:
- Exploring Homeownership
- Considering Mortgage-based Homeownership
- Budgeting for Homeownership
- Evaluating Credit for Homeownership
- Finding a Home
- Applying for a Home Loan
- Meeting Your Financial Obligations
- Protecting Your Investment
The curriculum is culturally adapted to the community, incorporating an opening prayer and a viewing of Sovereign Lending: A Bright Chance for Survival, the nationally recognized video on homeownership on the Flathead Reservation produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
The class is offered one day per month, which means that participants must complete all the modules, take the review test, and get their certificate of completion the same day. They cannot attend part of the class one month and another part the next month, primarily because of the cohesive curriculum.
At the end of the class, participants take a final test, answers are reviewed, and certificates are distributed to those who successfully completed the course.
Post-purchase classes also are available to support ongoing financial responsibilities of homeownership.
- The Flathead Finance Program for homebuyer readiness is designed to be as friendly and flexible for the client as possible, while still maintaining the integrity of the program.
- Representatives from local area banks are engaged as instructors for some of the modules. Using community bankers as instructors has several benefits:
- Local bankers have the opportunity to share their expertise and learn from class participants about the financial, credit, and other concerns their customers are facing.
- Participants get to know and develop a relationship with the local banking representatives.
- Familiarity with local people and developing relationships are essential components of building trust.
- The program is promoted through many modes of communication throughout the community – the tribal and local county newspapers, the CSKT’s website, the tribal employee newsletter, local banks, and realtors.
- Local area banks require participation in the Flathead Finance Program for certain loan products such as the HUD 184 program.
- SKHA has a positive relationship with NeighborWorks Montana, which supports the costs of the program and also allows SKHA to benefits from the ongoing training, consulting, and other assistance.
- The program offers options and choices in lenders in the area including three HUD-certified lenders.
- SKHA staff get instant feedback on the program and can assess modules that are most helpful and those that are challenging.
- SKHA staff are committed advocates who believe that homeownership is possible. They are dedicated to their clients and are available to them every step of the way, including accompany them to meetings with the lenders if requested.
- The Flathead Finance Program for homebuyer readiness sees approximately 155 clients annually.
- In 2017, SKHA qualified nine people for down payment assistance and closing costs: seven qualified for both benefits; one for down payment assistance; and one for closing costs.
- More and more people are successfully closing on homes and becoming successful homeowners.
- Even if clients are not closing on a home, SKHA sees more people on the reservation who are working hard to repair their credit and prepare for homeownership.
- Structured hands-on learning – Clients need a structured, hands-on, and patient approach, and that is what SKHA offers.
- Credit and credit repair – Many clients are working diligently on credit and credit repair even though they may not purchase a home in the future.
- Possibility of homeownership – Tribal members are realizing that homeownership is possible.
- Tribal leadership and support is an essential component because they lead by example: they are homeowners themselves and they support SKHA policies that promote homeownership.
- Affordability and Limited Housing Stock. New home construction costs are increasing and outpace affordability.
- Although SKHA clients qualify for a mid-range mortgage, recent construction of eight modest two-bedroom rental homes cost well-above that threshold.
- Consequently, people who qualify for a mortgage may not be able to afford new construction.
- There is a limited housing market of existing homes on tribal trust lands.
- Funding uncertainty. The ICBG financial assistance program for down payment, mortgage subsidy, and foreclosure prevention has been eliminated in the proposed 2019 budget, which disrupts planning new projects.
- State collaboration. SKHA does not receive support from the State of Montana and would benefit from mutual collaboration around affordable housing.
- More choices. SKHA needs more options to serve its clients. There is a constant need to identify or develop additional mortgage products with the flexibility for Indian Country lending.
On the horizon
- The Flathead Finance Program for homebuyer readiness will continuing to be a mainstay of the SKHA housing program.
- SKHA staff has the capacity and desire to serve many more clients.