The Citizen Potawatomi Nation Housing Department oversees a wide variety of responsibilities in its mission to provide Native Americans living in the Tribal jurisdiction with decent, safe and sanitary housing. Staff under Director Scott George operate low-income housing properties while also managing programs that provide either down payment or closing cost assistance for eligible members.
In that spirit, the CPN Housing Department recently rolled out a new homeownership program aimed at putting eligible Citizen Potawatomi on the path to owning a new home. This strict three-year leasehold with the option to purchase will get the applicant into a house sooner so they can experience all of the accompanying responsibilities.
“We want to prepare them for homeownership,” George said. “A lot of the members we work with can’t go from situations where they have poor credit or few monetary resources to putting money down on a new home. There needs to be some transition time and support, and this new Lease Purchase Program can assist with that.
“We want to increase the applicant’s financial awareness and help families improve their chances of owning their own home,” he added.
The homes will be new construction and energy efficient, in hopes of lessening some of the cost burden for the eventual tenants. The first round of the program will produce five homes that are three bedroom models created by the Anishinabe Design firm out of Norman, Oklahoma.
George has more than two decades of experience working in tribal housing programs, witnessing the efficiency and inefficiencies of different housing programs over the years. One largely failed policy is providing housing for someone not prepared to financially and materially care for their home. CPN Housing Department Home Ownership Manager Sherry Byers worked closely with George and other staffers to craft a workable, useful program that adheres to federal and tribal housing requirements.
“This isn’t a fast track to buying a home or even a guarantee that once they’re enrolled, the applicant is going to own the home. But if they follow the program and work on their financial literacy and reducing their income-to-debt ratio, they will get to that home ownership goal faster than waiting for the chance to win the lottery,” Byers said.
The Lease Purchase Program’s design helps teach the skills of owning a new home by making the tenants meet a series of responsibilities over the course of the three-year agreement. Income proof and ongoing financial education courses are two main program requirements, while residents will largely be responsible for the day-to-day upkeep of their properties.
“If it’s a large scale fix, like plumbing, electrical, construction, the housing department can help,” George said. “But it’s good to have the residents understand they need to do their own maintenance, whether that’s changing air filters for HVAC or making small fixes like any other homeowner.”
Program entrance will be determined by:
- Tribal citizenship
- Income eligibility
- Credit, bankruptcy and rental history
- Provable employment security
Income and credit evaluation
CPN Housing Department will run a credit report to evaluate the applicant’s readiness to enter the program. The applicant will be informed of their immediate status and eligibility for the program.
Life Cents is a personal financial education program designed to understand and improve the applicant’s financial health and well-being. Tribal housing will monitor the program and ensure the applicant completes the required components and are referred to a credit counselor. Failure to complete this program could result in removing the applicant from the waiting list.
Once determined eligible and creditworthy, the applicant will be placed on a waiting list and assessed a point value based on several contributing factors:
- Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member
- Member of another federally-recognized tribe
- Highest-ranking credit score
Client Action Plan
When determined program eligible, the applicant will enter into a Client Action Plan that outlines the applicant’s financial goals, identifies all debts and refers the applicant to a counselor who will assist them to create a debt reduction plan and provide financial counseling.
After the evaluation period and within the Life Cents financial education program, the applicant will receive a prompt to contact a credit counselor with the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation who will assist the applicant with a plan to map out how the applicant will reduce their debt load and increase their credit score.
Credit repair and monitoring
Throughout this process, the applicant will be repairing their credit by making the necessary life adjustments they need to pay down their debts to a manageable amount while doing their best not to incur any additional debt. The applicant will be in contact with the credit counselor and CPN Housing Department office to report their progress.
Lease purchase occupancy agreement
When the applicant is well on their way to achieving their financial goals and the eventuality of creditworthiness is within a few years of fulfillment, the applicant may qualify for CPN’s Leasehold Mortgage Program. This may be possible before the original calendar is set if they are within the three years of qualifying for a loan and a home is available for purchase.
After an applicant enters into the Lease Purchase Agreement with the housing department and is closer to their goals of becoming creditworthy, the applicant will enroll in a homebuyer’s education class.
At any time during this program, the applicant has the option to apply and obtain a loan. Should all the factors align that would quality the applicant for a mortgage, the applicant may skip through the process.
To learn more, contact the CPN Housing Department at 800-880-9880 or visit cpn.news/housing.