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Quarter 2 2021, Volume 9 Issue 2

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma: Serving the Unique Housing Counseling Needs of Tribal Members

The Housing Authority of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a tribally designated housing entity (TDHE), has participated in HUD’s Housing Counseling Program since 1996. Covering approximately 7 million acres with an estimated 200,000 members, the Choctaw Nation is the third largest tribal nation in the United States.

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma understands the importance of self-sufficiency, economic empowerment, educational advancement, health, wellness, character, and leadership in its community. It offers over 160 services to its tribal members focused on culture, education, health, housing, and family.

Choctaw Nation logo

To further these objectives, it adapted its housing program to offer a continuum of services to its tribal members. Much of its success can be attributed to how housing counselors tailor their services to the tribe’s needs, from lease purchase to independent elder housing.

Housing counselors with the Choctaw Nation stay educated about the continuum of services provided in their community, often referring clients to other departments based on their needs. Counselors found that one of the main services needed for tribal members is budget development. Budget development prepares potential homeowners to make payments and plan for unexpected emergencies.

One self-sufficiency program offered through the Choctaw Nation Housing Authority is the Lease to Purchase program (LEAP). LEAP was designed to help tribal members progress from rental assistance to homeownership. The program also assists with credit issues by providing counseling services to help tribal members become mortgage-ready and lender-qualified.

The LEAP program offers energy-efficient, 3-4-bedroom homes to renters as part of a lease to purchase program. Education and homebuyer counseling services are required as part of the LEAP program throughout the duration of the lease.

Another benefit of the program is that housing payments through LEAP are lower than area market rents. Lease agreements require tribal members to obtain a mortgage no later than the last day of the 15th year (though participants may purchase the home at any time during this period).

Housing counselors with the Choctaw Nation are currently providing services to approximately 300 LEAP participants, from video counseling to in-person visits, often traveling hours to meet with families. Their counseling topics include reviewing budgets and credit reports, setting short- and long-term goals, and referring clients to other wrap-around services within the Choctaw Nation. Counselors work hard to build trust with tribal members by providing services that meet their needs.

The COVID-19 national emergency affects how counselors interact with their clients and increases the need for virtual contact. The LEAP program has converted budget sheets and disclosures to fillable forms, so clients are not required to print out and scan important paperwork. The virtual environment has also allowed counselors and clients to work with another HUD program, ConnectHome. This program assists by providing internet access, laptops and other devices, and digital literacy training for low-income families. Through the relationship between LEAP and ConnectHome, the Choctaw Nation offers required webinars for homeowner education.

The knowledge gained from the Choctaw Nation’s housing counselors empowers tribal members to become self-sufficient homeowners and provides them with services that are desperately needed in Indian Country. As services grow and are tailored to the needs of the tribe, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma will continue to educate its members so they can share in the success of its programs.

Housing Services in Indian Country

Compared to non-Native housing counseling clients, tribal members face additional obstacles to homeownership in Indian Country. Housing constraints include trust land issues and substandard housing conditions. Pathways Home, a homeownership curriculum developed by the National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC), and HUD’s Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program are examples of how tribes and TDHEs have assisted their customers in overcoming the barriers that have historically made homeownership an “impossible dream” for many Native American families.

Choctaw homeOne of the Choctaw Nation's LEAP program homes

Tribal Consultation on the Final Rule for Housing Counseling Certification

HUD’s Office of Housing Counseling (OHC) in partnership with the Office of Native American Programs (ONAP) conducted a tribal consultation process at the beginning of 2021. Tribal members had the opportunity to provide verbal feedback in two virtual sessions, and written feedback was collected through March 19, 2021. OHC is currently reviewing the feedback collected through this process and determining the next steps.

For more information, visit the Tribal Consultation webpage on the HUD Exchange.