WASHINGTON, D.C. - A bill sponsored by U.S. Representative Martin Heinrich (NM-1) to remove barriers between Native American families and homeownership recently unanimously passed the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Since he first introduced the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership (HEARTH) Act in 2009, Rep. Heinrich, along with pueblos, tribes and housing organizations across the country, has advocated for its passage to allow tribes to exercise greater control over their lands and eliminate bureaucratic delays that stand in the way of homeownership 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 families who would prefer to stay and raise their children in the communities where their families have lived for generations - but instead have moved 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 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 and time obstacles prospective Native American home owners encounter when seeking approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to buy a home on tribal land.
"The HEARTH Act of 2011 will go a long way in strengthening tribal self-determination and tribal economies at the same time. We know the time frame for individual tribal members to receive a home-site lease is arduous and can be as long as three years under the current Bureau of Indian Affairs process, but we anticipate that these improvements in leasing and enhanced tribal control over surface leasing will help more tribal members get into homes quick," said National American Indian Housing Council Chairwoman Cheryl A. Causley. "The NAIHC strongly supports the HEARTH Act of 2011 because it respects and fosters Indian tribal decision-making, expedites what can often be lengthy Federal administrative processes, and will improve the delivery of Federal housing assistance and expand economic opportunity in tribal communities."
The HEARTH Act now goes to the full House of Representatives for consideration. A companion bill passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in July 2011.
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