As we look back at successes of 2011, this MOU signing is one that I will remember. This summer, USDA Rural Development New York State Director Jill Harvey and St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Chiefs, Ronald Lafrance Jr, Randy Hart, and Mark Garrow came together to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This MOU marked the first time Rural Development’s New York state office has been able to offer secured loans on Tribal Lands in New York. This is truly a historic partnership between a federal agency and the St. Regis Mohawk tribe.
This MOU will enable USDA to offer all SFH Programs on St. Regis Mohawk lands to include: Section 502 Direct, Section 502 Guaranteed Rural Housing, Section 504 Home Repair Loans and Grants and Self Help Housing. Rural Development will now be able to finance the construction of new homes, as well as the acquisition and rehabilitation of existing homes for low and moderate income families on the Akwesasne tribal lands.
This all began when Area Director Brian Murray and SFH Program Director Jennifer Jackson began a dialogue with St. Regis Human Services Division employee, Heather Durant regarding a client that she wanted to assist into a home ownership opportunity. These discussions evolved into meetings between Tribal Council, the Akwesasne Housing Authority, and USDA. It was identified early in these meetings that the main hurdle to assisting tribal members with homeownership opportunities is that the tribal members only have deeded rights to their property and can’t pledge the property as collateral on any debt. The Tribe itself actually owns and holds in trust the property and deeds the land to the tribal members. Working together toward a common goal, these meetings eventually led to the Tribe’s development of their Mortgage Land Assignment & Foreclosure and Eviction Ordinances. These allowed tribal members to convey an assignment of lien to USDA but still preserved the integrity of their sovereign lands. These documents were reviewed and endorsed by USDA Rural Development; approved by Administrator Trevino in the fall of 2009. This opened the door to residential mortgage lending in Akwesasne, pending the creation and execution of a formal MOU. After working out some legal details, this MOU has made secured lending possible on St. Regis Mohawk tribal lands. As a result of this historic agreement and partnership, several tribal members have begun the application process for funding.
Rural Development is ready and committed to providing home ownership opportunities for our Native American neighbors on the St. Regis Mohawk reservation. We believe that homeownership is also the Native American dream and we can help to make that possible.