Native American Financial Help for Buying a Home

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               Mortgage-Financed Homeownership
               in Indian Country
               It has been a little over 10 years since a concerted effort began to reach the
               mortgage-credit needs of this underserved population. The gains have been
               impressive, but challenges remain.
               by Steven Barbier

               To the outside world, obtaining a home loan may          In addition, the NeighborWorks® Training Institute’s
               seem like an ordinary event, even a right, for credit-   Native American community development training
               worthy homebuyers. In Indian Country, however,           program, sponsored by the Wells Fargo Housing
               establishing access to mortgage credit can be a strug-   Foundation, has trained 181 community develop-
               gle, and involves a learning curve for the tribes,       ment practitioners, benefiting more than 90 tribes. It
               lenders, and Native American homebuyers.                 has certified 89 Native homebuyer education coun-
                                                                        selors and trained 12 “Super Trainers” equipped to
               NeighborWorks® America and local Neighbor-               teach additional counselors.
               Works® organizations have been working concur-
               rently with many other entities over the span of a       On a broader scale, tribes, federal agencies, govern-
               decade to help smooth the process for Native oppor-      ment-sponsored enterprises, financial institutions,
               tunities for homeownership.                              national intermediaries, Indian housing authorities,
                                                                        and nonprofit organizations all have made concerted
               In Arizona, for example, Navajo Partnership for          efforts to promote access to mortgage credit on trib-
               Housing (NPH) helped pilot the Presidential              al lands.
               Initiative One-Stop Mortgage Center, a joint project
               of the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S.             In fact, mortgage lending is opening the door to
               Department of Housing and Urban Development.             greater housing choice in location, quality, and
               Since its inception, NPH has helped more than 209        design for qualifying Native families. In place of sin-
               Navajo families purchase or rehabilitate homes by        gle- and double-wide mobile homes, quality manu-
               packaging or originating 323 loans and grants total-     factured housing and one- and two-story, stick-built
               ing approximately $17.9 million, primarily on Tribal     homes provide Native families with amenities once
               Trust Land.                                              available only in off-reservation housing.

               In Montana, the Montana HomeOwnership                    Raising Awareness
               Network, through the Montana Native American             But it wasn’t always so. Not so long ago, on the
               Homeownership Task Force, supports seven                 Navajo Nation, reservations in Montana, and most
               Montana tribes in securing access to training, miti-     reservations throughout the United States, it was not
               gating legal barriers to homeownership, providing        possible for a Native family to go into a bank and get
               operating support, and advocating for new loan           a home loan on Individual or Tribal Trust Land due
               product initiatives targeted for Native Americans.       to the restricted nature of the land. Tribal Trust Land
                                                                        is land held in trust by the United States for the use
               In Oklahoma, Little Dixie Community Action               of a specific tribe.
               Agency provides technical assistance to nonprofits
               and tribal housing authorities through a Rural           In 1994, the Navajo Nation Division of Economic
               Development Self-Help technical assistance contract      Development and the Department of Treasury spon-
               with the U.S. Agriculture Department. Little Dixie is    sored a summit in Chinle, Arizona, on the Navajo
               currently working with the Oglala Sioux Tribe            Nation. Its purpose was to encourage access to cred-
               Partnership for Housing, the Creek Nation, and the       it for business and residential purposes on the largest
               Cherokee Nation to promote mortgage-based home-          Indian reservation in the country. Among the partic-
               ownership through the Self-Help Model.

16   Spring 2006 NeighborWorks® Bright Ideas
Crow officials join in a signing ceremony
for a memorandum of understanding with Fannie Mae. lending is
                                                     opening the door to greater
        ipants was Eugene A. Ludwig, then
        Comptroller of the Currency and a
                                                      housing choice in location,
        member of Neighborhood Reinvest-
        ment’s board of directors.                         quality, and design for
        “The participation of Eugene ‘Gene’            qualifying Native families.
        Ludwig in that summit had a phenom-
        enal impact on getting the attention of                 loans to individuals and tribal housing authorities for
        the banking community” says Rodger Boyd, Deputy         more than $296 million from 1995 through 2005. Of
        Assistant Secretary for Native American Programs at     the total, 914 were loans on Tribal Trust Land. FHA
        HUD. “It sent a very clear signal regarding the mar-    Section 248 insured 16 loans between 2000 and 2005
        ket potential beyond commercial lending.”               totaling about $1.3 million.

        The Chinle Summit also spawned the creation of the      On the development side, in 1996, the Native
        Navajo Partnership for Housing, the first Neighbor -    American Housing and Self-Determination Act
        Works® affiliate working in Indian Country. Other       (NAHASDA) consolidated a number of Indian hous-
        initiatives and studies followed, which helped docu-    ing programs into an Indian housing block grant
        ment the issues and suggest solutions. The solutions    (IHBG). The IHBG is a formula grant that provides
        focused on three areas – improving access to capital,   a range of affordable housing activities on Indian
        building Native capacity for homeownership, and         reservations and Indian areas. Funded at roughly
        removing legal barriers.                                $600 million a year, the program has often been used
                                                                for home construction, with the goal of this con-
                                                                struction financing being taken out with permanent
        Improving Access to Capital                             mortgage loans. Additional potential exists with the
        Public- and private-sector players have developed       Title VI Loan Guarantee section of the Act.
        several special loan products to meet the needs of
        Native homebuyers.                                      At Agriculture, Section 502 loans are used primarily
                                                                to help low-income households purchase homes.
        At HUD, for instance, the Section 184 loan guaran-      Rural Development has made 2,935 Section 502
        tee program for Native Americans has made 2,796         direct and guaranteed loans on Trust and Allotted

                                                                                             NeighborWorks® Bright Ideas Spring 2006   17

                                                      Lands between 1999 and 2005,           NeighborWorks® America along
                                                      totaling $233.1 million.               with the National American
                                                                                             Indian Housing Council, National
                    Documenting                       At the Veterans Administration,        Congress of the American Indians,
                      the Issues,                     through the pilot Native Amer-         HUD’s Office of Native American
                 Identifying Solutions                ican Veterans Direct Home Loan         Programs, Enterprise Community
                                                      Program, 480 direct loans have         Partners (formerly The Enterprise
               A number of key studies helped         been made since 1993 all on trust      Foundation) and several other fun-
               document the barriers to mortgage-
                                                      land.                                  ders, joined forces to develop
               financed homeownership in Indian
               Country and identify solutions.
                                                                                             Pathways Home: A Native Guide
                                                      Fannie Mae offers conventional         to Homeownership.
               The One-Stop Mortgage Center           loans through the Native
               presidential initiative of 1998-2000   American Conventional Lending          So far, 318 instructors, represent-
               was a joint project of the U.S.        Initiative (NACLI) and has pur-        ing 88 different tribes, have been
               Department of Treasury and the         chased loans covering 11,804 sin-      certified to provide the class.
               U.S. Department of Housing and
                                                      gle-family homes on tribal lands,      About one-third gained their cer-
               Urban Development. It involved two
               nonprofit, local intermediary pilot    which include tribal trust, allotted   tificates through the Neighbor-
               sites – Navajo Partnership for         land, and fee simple lands, totaling   Works® Training Institute’s Native
               Housing and the Ogalala Sioux          nearly $1.1 billion from 1995          American community develop-
               Tribe Partnership for Housing – and    through November 2005. These           ment training program, sponsored
               partnership task groups at the         totals include HUD 184, FHA 248,       by the Wells Fargo Housing
               national level.                        USDA 502, and conventional loans.      Foundation.
               They looked at building national and
               local capacity to promote home-        The Federal Home Loan Bank             In financial literacy, a coalition
               ownership – promoting homebuyer        system, through its Affordable         effort led by First Nations
               education and financial literacy,      Housing Program, has provided          Oweesta Corporation, has trained
               streamlining the mortgage lending      critical entry-cost assistance to      an additional 760 instructors in
               process, and facilitating private-     encourage homeownership for            the “Building Native Commun-
               sector involvement. Model intera-
                                                      Native homebuyers.                     ities: Financial Skills for Families”
               gency lease and lending proce-
               dures were developed through that
                                                                                             Financial Literacy curriculum.
               study.1                                State housing finance agencies are
                                                      expanding their reach into Indian      To build lending skills and institu-
               The Treasury’s Community Develop-      Country. The Montana Board of          tions, Treasury’s CDFI Fund has
               ment Financial Institutions Fund       Housing, through support from          contributed grants and training for
               conducted a landmark study, Native     Fannie Mae, recently announced         Native CDFIs. It now reports 35,
               American Lending Study Report
                                                      the MyMontanaMortgage pro-             with the Navajo Partnership for
               (2001), which included an in-depth
               report on barriers, accessing capi-    gram that offers a 1 percent           Housing being one of those.
               tal, and remedies to mitigate the      reduced interest rate for under-
               barriers.2                             served groups such as Native
                                                      Americans.                             Removing Legal Barriers,
               The Federal Reserve System,
               through its Sovereign Lending
                                                                                             Streamlining the Lending Process
                                                      This loan production to date
               Workshops, has documented
                                                      would not have been possible           Many tribes now have put into
               issues and advanced solutions on a
                                                      without financial institutions like    place the legal infrastructure for
               tribe-by-tribe approach.                                                      mortgage lending, just as the
                                                      Wells Fargo, Countrywide, and
               1                                      Washington Mutual, as well as          Apsaalooke Nation paved the
                One Stop Mortgage Center Initiative
               in Indian Country, A Report to the     small community banks, originat-       way for conventional financing
               President, Oct. 2000 U.S. Department   ing these special product and port-    through its “Financial Procedures
               of Housing and Urban Development
                                                      folio loans.                           and Protections Act” (see
               and U.S. Treasury.
                                                                                             “Homeownership in Indian Country”
                The Report of the Native American                                            sidebar).
               Lending      Study,     Community
               Development Financial Institutions     Building Capacity
               Fund, Nov. 2001, U.S. Department of                                           More than 185 tribes and Alaskan
               Treasury                               A major concern was building the       Villages have been approved for
                                                      capacity of Native American con-       HUD’s Section 184 loan guaran-
                                                      sumers around homeownership            tee program, indicating that they
                                                      and managing credit.                   have some legal infrastructure for

18   Spring 2006 NeighborWorks® Bright Ideas
                                               Different house styles reflect different
                                               Native American Homebuyers. Janice
                                                Knows the Ground’s house, under
                                                      construction, is at right.

mortgage lending in place.                                             recordation functions from the BIA, receive 10 to 15
                                                                       title search requests a day. Control over this function
On another front, Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs,                 has helped them originate 70 Section 184 loans in
Agriculture’s Rural Development, and HUD’s Office                      the past 24 months.
of Native American Programs have been working
together to shorten the timeframe for title search
reports (TSRs). The TSR process, given backlogs at                     Remaining Challenges
BIA offices, can add one to 12 months to the home-                     For all the gains, challenges still remain. They include
buying process, depending on the region.                               addressing the physical and legal infrastructures on
                                                                       tribal lands, building the capacity of local intermedi-
As a result, the BIA has established 30 days from a                    aries (be they tribal housing authorities, nonprofits,
lender’s request as the target for providing a TSR. In                 or CDFIs), continuing to streamline the lending
addition, a Section 184 HUD-guaranteed loan can                        process, adjusting cost expectations of the Native
then be closed based on an endorsement by the BIA                      homebuyer, and safeguarding against predatory
Realty Officer without a new TSR saving time.                          lending.
In several models, tribes have contracted with the                     Even though significant, these challenges should not
BIA to assume part of the title search and recorda-                    overshadow the great accomplishments that have
tion process. The Saginaw-Chippewa Tribe in                            been achieved. And these accomplishments are key
Michigan, for example, reports that setting up its                     building blocks for enhancing Native opportunities
own tribal leasehold recording office has contributed                  to achieve the American dream of homeownership.
to its ability to sell $60 million in loans to Fannie
Mae. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes                       Steven Barbier ( is a management consultant with
in Montana, which have assumed title search and                        NeighborWorks® America.

 Homeownership in Indian Country
 In April 2004, on his fourth presentation to the                       A bit of perspective may be in order. It can be argued
 Apsaalooke (Crow) Nation Legislature, Shawn Real                       that the mortgage loan industry in the United States
 Bird, Crow Nation Director of Economic Development,                    began in 1934 with the FHA offering 15-year loans. At
 obtained approval of the “Financial Procedures and                     that time, 40 percent of U.S. households were home-
 Protections Act,” which comprised the legal docu-                      owners, compared to 2000 census estimates of 68
 ments that made possible the first conventional loan                   percent.
 on the Apsaalooke Nation.
                                                                        For Native Americans, however, even now, fewer than
 Supported by his partners – the Montana American                       33 percent own their own home, according to a 2002
 Indian American Homeownership Task Force of which                      Government Accountability Office report.3 An estimat-
 the Montana HomeOwnership Network (an affiliate of                     ed 750,000 Natives live on reservations, and 1.7 million
 the NHS, Inc. of Great Falls) is a member – Shawn                      live outside tribal areas, according to census figures.4
 Real Bird and the Apsaalooke (Crow) Nation assisted
 Janice Knows the Ground and her family in receiving a                  For everyone working in Indian Country, this perspec-
 conventional loan from First Interstate Bank to build a                tive is enduring motivation to continue reaching out
 beautiful two story home on her allotted homesite and                  to this underserved market and break through the
 replacing a mobile home she had lived in for 10 years.                 remaining barriers for Native American access to
 Real Bird is passionate about this cause. “It’s a crime,”              3
                                                                         US GAO Report to Congressional Requesters, Native American
 he says, “that in the 21st century there are U.S. citi-                Housing, VA Could Address Some Barriers to Participation in Direct
 zens denied the opportunity for homeownership                          Loan Program.
 because of where they live.”                                           4
                                                                         US Census Bureau

                                                                                                             NeighborWorks® Bright Ideas Spring 2006   19

               Lessons from Florida 2004,
               with Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Jeanne
               What two NeighborWorks® organizations in Florida learned in 2004 when
               strong hurricanes battered their communities may help others respond to
               major disasters in the future.

               South Central Florida                                        Palm Beach County
               Thoughtful Goals, Strong Advocacy,                           Relying on ‘Beacon Centers’
               ‘Creative Persistence,’ Flexibility Are Keys                 in Palm Beach County

               by Steven Mainster                                           by Patrick McNamara

               After hurricane Andrew, in 1992, NeighborWorks®              In 2004, both Frances and Jeanne hit the West Palm
               affiliate Centro Campesino Farmworker Center of              Beach area.
               Florida City was the major nonprofit community
               development corporation engaged in hurricane                 In recovering, NeighborWorks® affiliate Housing
               rebuilding for low-income families in the Homestead          Partnership Inc. of Palm Beach County used an
               and Florida City areas.                                      “Each-One-Reach-One” communications process to
                                                                            reach its clients, either by phone or in person.
               In the 12 months after the hurricane, we at Centro
               repaired or replaced 50 homes and spent more than            So, when Hurricane Wilma hit last October, badly
               $1 million in the effort. We also developed a tent city,     damaging Housing Partnership’s building, Housing
               which housed more than 500 people, and served a              Partnership relied on the county’s school-based
               thousand meals a day in partnership with the U.S.            Beacon Centers to help provide relief and distribute
               Army.                                                        information. (For related articles on the evolving roles of
                                                                            community-based development organizations in the 2005
               So, when Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne hit          Gulf Coast disaster and equitable rebuilding, see pages 6
               South Central Florida in 2004, we thought we had a plan.     and 24.)

               We would drastically increase funding and staff so we        We learned from 2004’s experience that this was one
               could serve the major hurricane repair and replace-          of the ways that our efforts could be put to best use.
               ment needs of families in the most damaged counties          Many people in these disenfranchised areas faced
               in our service area, with emphasis on Desoto and             severe challenges in meeting basic needs for food,
               Hardee Counties. In these counties, it was estimated         shelter, and clothing immediately after the hurricane.
               that 7,000 housing units had been damaged beyond
               repair and thousands of others had major damage.             A Beacon Center is basically a community center
               Many homes belonged to low-income families, with             superimposed on the campus of a public school in a
               inadequate or no insurance. Many families were new           disenfranchised neighborhood. Palm Beach County
               immigrants who didn’t speak English, and were not            has 14 Beacon Centers; Housing Partnership oper-
               eligible for government assistance.                          ates five of them. Many people in these disenfran-
                                                                            chised neighborhoods, particularly in the “Glades”
               We planned to operate our hurricane rebuilding plan          area, faced severe challenges in meeting basic needs
               in three separate phases: short-term emergency               for food, shelter, and clothing immediately after the
               relief; mid-term rebuilding, counseling and construc-        hurricane.
               tion; and long-term neighborhood development.
                                                                            One of the five in the Glades, the Pahokee Beacon
               Now, 18 months into an ongoing program, we have              Center, for example, is a partnership among the ele-
               found that some parts of our plan worked and others          mentary and middle schools, community-based
               did not. We adjusted where we could and continued            organizations, active residents and the center’s com-
                                                                            munity advisory council. Beacon Centers’ after-
                                                     Continued on page 22

20   Spring 2006 NeighborWorks® Bright Ideas
Hurricane debris forms a backdrop for (left to right) Brea, Nick and Emma McNamara   Photo by Patrick McNamara

school programs provide academic, social, recre-                     care, or other outlets due to lack of water and power.
ational, and cultural activities in which youth can
develop meaningful relationships with adults and                     In turn, both the Pahokee Housing Authority and
peers, while improving their educational and leader-                 the city government used the Beacon Center to col-
ship skills. The centers’ other programs provide a                   lect and distribute up-to-date information on needs
wide array of services to strengthen the entire fami-                and services. This effective communication process
ly and community.                                                    resulted in the center being awarded a $20,000 grant
                                                                     from the local Community Foundation to distribute
Following Wilma, Beacon staff and youth leaders                      emergency rent and utility assistance, as well as over
helped in distributing food, water and ice; preparing                $5,000 in food vouchers for distribution.
and serving meals at local shelters; distributing infor-
mation on the location and eligibility of available                  The center is now turning its attention to the long-
services; and assisting applicants for cash voucher                  term recovery needs of the community. Housing
cards. Despite the damage to their building,                         Partnership is active in local meetings with faith-
Housing Partnership’s corporate office organized an                  based groups, such as the Mennonite Volunteers,
effective clothing drive for the Pahokee and Belle                   local government, and other community agencies to
Glade areas.                                                         formalize plans to address the significant housing
                                                                     needs of the community.
In addition, the center established a Beacon family
hotline to serve area families and conducted a needs                 And these were the efforts of just one of the Beacon
assessment to identify permanently displaced fami-                   Centers – the other centers also rose to the occasion,
lies.                                                                and their neighborhoods are now recovering.

It also planned and coordinated a “Parent Relief                     Patrick McNamara ( is executive direc-
Day” to provide a day of food, fun, music and relax-                 tor, Community Services, Community Partnership Group,
ation for parents and children without school, child                 Housing Partnership, Inc.

                                                                                                          NeighborWorks® Bright Ideas Spring 2006   21

              South Central Florida Continued from page 20                   would have saved time and effort, and decreased our
                                                                             liability for construction decisions.
               on. In fact, we have accomplished much.
                                                                             Get your own work crews on-staff, because they will pay
               We have met our financial goal and raised more than           for themselves in time gained, work accomplished, and job
               $2 million for hurricane repair and rebuilding, with          cost control. After Andrew, we used our own general
               key support from NeighborWorks® America.                      construction crews, because we were in our own
                                                                             home base and we are residential builders. We also
               We have committed funds to or completed the repair            had access to a guaranteed flow of volunteers, and a
               or replacement of more than 100 homes, with a                 Department of Labor-paid work crew (National
               value of more than $1 million, for the lowest-income          Emergency Grant) of more than 100 people.
               families in our service area. We have kept our staff in
               the field for more than a year. We still have a store of      In contrast, in our 2004 program, it is taking us dou-
               more than $1 million in grants for the next six to 12         ble or triple the normal time to get work done,
               months.                                                       because of the lack of suitable contractors and volun-
               We’ve built major partnerships with local govern-
               ment, rebuilding committees, faith-based groups, and          If volunteers can be obtained, they must be commit-
               nonprofit agencies to jointly fund and repair or              ted to a long-term schedule that they cannot break
               replace homes. These partnerships have become the             or change, as if they are under contract. If you can
               foundation of our success.                                    achieve this with volunteers, or paid staff, work will
                                                                             be a snap compared to bidding projects in the private
               Lessons Learned                                               sector. If work must be bid using outside contractors,
               Any program of this scale runs into problems that             package the jobs so that at least $100,000 of work
               can slow it down and limit its effectiveness. We sure-        can be bid together.
               ly ran into our share. But, hopefully, pointing out the
               lessons we learned will assist others in large-scale          If funds cannot be readily found to pay for sizeable
               and expansive rebuilding and replacement efforts.             crews to complete work, an alternative would be to
               (For related articles on the evolving roles of community-     establish a for-profit or nonprofit independent sister
               based development organizations in the 2005 Gulf Coast        organization that can bid on each job. This will keep
               disaster and on equitable rebuilding, see pages 6 and 24.)    other contractors’ work within fair market price, and
                                                                             also allow you to award work to the sister organiza-
               A large-scale project should contract with or hire an         tion if other bidders are too high or unresponsive.
               architect or engineer to be available as needed to do home-
               assessments and job write-ups and specifications. We          Depending on others for advocacy will hurt a rebuilding
               were not successful in recruiting an architectural or         program. The best way to get a clear picture of what
               engineering company to assess structures and pre-             a family really needs is to have advocates on-staff
               pare specifications for repair or replacement in the          who can get answers in writing and make sure a fam-
               hurricane-damaged areas. Our attempts to recruit              ily is getting the resources it deserves. Often, lawyers
               faith-based volunteers for this function were unsuc-          are needed to pry information out of agencies or
               cessful. Consequently, we used our own staff to do            insurance companies and to represent clients with
               all job write-ups.                                            resisting institutions.

               However, with the long hours they had to spend in             Also, one highly trained and informed person on-
               the field and the paperwork they had to do to pre-            staff must be designated as the spokesman for your
               pare bids and recruit contractors, our in-house con-          nonprofit and the liaison to high levels in FEMA and
               struction staff frequently didn’t have the time or the        others with resources.
               professional qualifications to do specifications and
               instructions for challenging structures.                      Train, train, train – and have a well-defined operation
                                                                             practiced before the program begins. Schedule ongoing
               Also, due to staff turnover, the quality of the write-        training on a regular basis to prevent the blind lead-
               up process changed. When licensed contractors or              ing the blind. You may be impatient to begin provid-
               volunteers joined us to do rebuilding, they frequent-         ing relief because people are in such great need, but
               ly did not agree with our staff regarding the scope of        having trained and effective staff and a very good
               work, or the viability of repairs versus replacement.         communication network are key to early and sus-
               Professional write-ups by engineers or architects             tained success under duress.

22   Spring 2006 NeighborWorks® Bright Ideas
Mold permeates a hurricane-damaged kitchen.   Photo by Dennis Livingston

                                                                           Steven Mainster ( is executive
From the outset, our program had to contend with                           director of Centro Campesino Farmworker Center.
new untrained staff from the private sector doing our
core work.                                                                 Epilogue
                                                                           In October 2005, Hurricane Wilma – the strongest storm since
After the first six months, the original staff was
                                                                           Charley – knocked out our power for 10 days. Luckily, it did not
replaced with a “second generation” staff, better
equipped to carry out the challenging work.                                do any damage to Desoto, Hardee and Polk Counties (hard hit
                                                                           by Charley, Jeanne and Frances in 2004). We had not finished
Expand fiscal and administrative staff as well as pro-                     rebuilding there, so we can continue without interruption.
gram staff in order to avoid slowdowns and over-work.
Centro rapidly expanded its program staff to under-                        However, Wilma caused very serious damage in rural Palm
take the hurricane repair and rebuilding program,                          Beach and Hendry Counties. They were much harder hit by
but did not expand its administrative and fiscal staff                     Wilma than any other storm in more than 10 years. Villa Lago,
to support their work. This led to bottlenecks in fis-                     our subdivision under gut rehab in the city of South Bay, which
cal and reporting functions and overwork .                                 is in Palm Beach County, suffered serious structural damage.

Make sure adequate cash flow is available in greatly                       Farmworkers and rural low-income homeowners in South Bay,
expanded amounts for your nonprofit before large-                          Belle Glade, and Pahokee, in Palm Beach County, as well as in
scale operations begin. Insist that funders respect this.                  Clewiston, in neighboring Hendry County, suffered tremendous
                                                                           damage to their housing. It is estimated that 75 percent of all
Conclusion                                                                 mobile homes in South Bay, Clewiston, and Pahokee were severe-
Overall, your efforts and those of very few others                         ly damaged or completely destroyed.
may be the only ones that meaningfully reach low-
income areas where families have suffered so much.
If you have well thought-out goals, strong advocacy,
flexibility, and persistence, you will be successful.

                                                                                                             NeighborWorks® Bright Ideas Spring 2006   23

                                                                   Rising to the
                                                                   Challenge of
                                                                   the Gulf Coast
               Public-private partnerships helped residents rebuild Harlem and
               the South Bronx. Can it happen again in the Gulf Coast?

               by Reese Fayde

               Like so many other Americans, community                    ture, and local culture – to say nothing of personal
               development professionals are reeling from the mag-        and communal lives.
               nitude of the devastation in the Gulf Coast in the
               aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.                  For policymakers, philanthropists, and anyone else
                                                                          coming in from the outside to lend a hand, rebuild-
               For decades, we have honed our tools and skills to         ing in the Gulf Coast will mean more than replicat-
               achieve neighborhood revitalization in communities         ing the same project a few hundred times. An entire-
               across the country. We know the people with whom           ly different mindset is needed. How does a particular
               to talk, how to launch innovative financing ideas,         neighborhood fit within the larger context? What are
               how to gain access to local and state resources, how       the economic and political forces in play in the
               to apply for grants, and how to find resources that        region? We need to turn our attention to the big pic-
               nobody suspected were there. We know how to put            ture, in which individual community development
               it all together at the neighborhood level. At this level   projects are only one part. The larger effort will like-
               we are masters.                                            ly be unprecedented in scale, and it will take
                                                                          unprecedented levels of cooperation among govern-
               But the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast area have ush-        ment, business, and philanthropy.
               ered in a new era, changing our accustomed ways of
               doing business. Even at this early stage in the recon-     A Bigger Ask
               struction, some lessons are emerging. And what’s
               happening on the Gulf Coast can have important             Let’s face it: We community development profes-
               ramifications not just for New Orleans and Gulfport        sionals are pros at working on the margin. After all,
               but also for efforts in Detroit, Indianapolis, New         our goal is to work with communities that have been
               York, and other cities across the country. (For relat-     economically marginalized, to help bring them into
               ed articles on the Gulf Coast and Florida, see pages       the mainstream economy. But because we specialize
               6 and 20.)                                                 in areas that the rest of the country prefers to forget,
                                                                          because resources are always so hit or miss, we tend
               Issues of Scale                                            to moderate our “ask.” In short, we make do with
                                                                          what we have and patch together what resources we
               The scope of the devastation wrought by Katrina is         can.
               as hard to comprehend, as is the scale of the rebuild-
               ing effort. It isn’t simply a matter of rebuilding hous-   Now we must seize the moment and think more
               es. The storm also devastated institutions, infrastruc     expansively. We must raise our sights and agree on a

24   Spring 2006 NeighborWorks® Bright Ideas
bigger “ask” that encompasses schools, jobs, homes,      Let’s use this opportunity to show what is possible –
and services. We have an opportunity to do things        to model how people can work together and con-
right – to plan and rebuild in a comprehensive, fair,    tribute their talents and experience. With human-
and coordinated manner. We are not only asking for       interest stories and hard, compelling facts, one can
a larger share of the pie; we are asking for recon-      gain and retain the media’s attention. Living Cities
struction to be done properly.                           supports the Brookings Institution to do this work.
                                                         Brookings’ widely published “Katrina Index”
This country has rebuilt devastated communities          (
before. Look at Harlem and the South Bronx. There        naindex.htm) draws public attention to issues of need
is no shortage of people with experience forging         and accountability. Community development advo-
public-private partnerships and striking workable        cates need to ride the wave, distilling our messages
deals. All they need is a policy mandate and the         into concepts that are concrete, relatively simple to
resources to get the job done.                           understand, consistent, and persuasive.

Race and Poverty                                         Federal Policy Implications
Are Front and Center
                                                         Hurricane Katrina has changed the way we look at
I know of few community development projects in          disasters and at our disaster management policies
this country that haven’t had to deal with race and      and resources. As a nation, we are only now begin-
poverty as a subtext. That’s the problem – these ever-   ning a true assessment of what federal resources
present issues are usually under the surface, rarely
addressed head-on.                              lending is
In the Gulf Coast recovery effort, however, issues of
race and poverty are – or should be – front and cen-
                                                         We have an opportunity
ter in all deliberations and rebuilding plans. These
are uncomfortable issues for Americans, but the pub-
                                                         to do things right –
lic discourse on race and poverty that the hurricanes
have brought about is a healthy thing. It is an open-
                                                         to plan and rebuild in
ing that we cannot afford to let slip by.                a comprehensive, fair,
We know all too well that rebuilding and reconstruc-
tion are not technical matters to be left to financial
                                                         and coordinated
experts and engineers. At their heart, they involve
competing visions of how society should work, who        manner.
decides the rules, and who gets a piece of the pie.

The values we bring to this effort are laid out in the   need to be brought to bear in such situations and
“Ten Points to Guide Rebuilding in the Gulf Coast        what impacts specific federal policies have on the
Region” developed by PolicyLink (www.policylink.         ground.
org/EquitableRenewal.html) and supported in
Living Cities’ “Open Letter to Congress” (www.liv-       Katrina also reminds us that our long-neglected The letter      urban infrastructure has grown fragile, not only lev-
has been signed by prominent organizations that          ees but also bridges, subways, and tunnels. We need
speak for and invest in disenfranchised communities,     a genuinely engaged federal partner to restore and
including the National NeighborWorks® Association        maintain that infrastructure of our communities.
(, the voice of NeighborWorks®
organizations nationwide.                                Coordinated Investment
                                                         Will Be Critical
The Media Have Not Moved On
                                                         There is an urgent need for investors to align their
Despite the notoriously short attention span of          resources in recognition of the new realities in the
America’s media giants, and although the Gulf Coast      Gulf Coast. Offering help is not enough. We must be
no longer dominates the evening news, there still is     sensitive to the capacities of communities, and we
plenty of media interest in the recovery.                must blend our responses in order to maximize our
                                                         usefulness. A multiplicity of funders, rules, and initia-

                                                                                       NeighborWorks® Bright Ideas Spring 2006   25

               tives creates hardship for communities struggling to

               Success will require long-term, coordinated commit-
               ment. Think of it as a relay race, not a sprint. Living
               Cities is working with other funders to coordinate
               investments in the Gulf Coast as we have in other

               Another example of coordination is the newly
               launched Louisiana Rebuilds communications por-
               tal (, developed by
               PolicyLink with the help of Living Cities.

               We also need to consider what it will take to help
               these investors stay the course. The rebuilding
               process will be slow. It involves not merely rebuild-
               ing, but also coming up with new structures, new
               approaches, and the coordination of a broad set of
               organizations and interests over an extended period.

               These are still early days in the rebuilding of the Gulf
               Coast, and undoubtedly there will be many more
               hard lessons. But now is the time for policymakers,
               funders, and community development professionals
               to look for opportunities to collaborate in the recov-

               It is true that the Gulf Coast has subsumed the
               nation’s attention, siphoning off (at least for now)
               resources for community development.

               But in the longer term the Gulf Coast recovery could
               open new doors, not only in the Gulf region but
               throughout the country, enabling the community
               development profession to take on a new role in
               revitalizing our nation’s communities.

               Reese Fayde ( is CEO of Living Cities: The
               National Community Development Initiative.

                 Louisiana Rebuilds
                 The Louisiana Rebuilds communications portal
                 (,       developed     by
                 PolicyLink, brings together the efforts of a diverse
                 set of interested parties, from government agencies
                 to community organizations and citizens, to provide
                 a single place for Louisianans and others across the
                 country to find information related to recovery and
                 rebuilding. Topics include housing, health care,
                 financial information, the latest news, jobs, educa-
                 tion, transportation, and more.

26   Spring 2006 NeighborWorks® Bright Ideas
Training Institute

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