PABLO — On September 18, the Montana Native Homeownership Coalition gathered at Salish Kootenai Housing Authority (SKHA) to reconnect, celebrate successes, revisit strategic plans, assign tasks, and learn about SKHA’s homeownership efforts.
The coalition began in 2021 when 7 Sisters, Fannie Mae, and the coalition conducted and compiled research data with regards to Native homeownership in Montana. The needs assessment was administered online from May to June in 2021 with the findings available in December of 2021.
Based on the findings, the coalition formed with steering committees, a strategic plan, and the main goal of increasing Native homeowners in Montana. The coalition met each year to stay focused on goals and tasks assigned to each steering committee.
The people who attended the leadership summit at SKHA have years of experience and a wealth of knowledge in the areas of homeownership, lending, banking, business, finance, housing development, and community outreach.
Jody Cahoon-Perez welcomed the coalition to her home and described how she wants to help her people achieve homeownership. The main goal for the coalition is to increase Native homeownership in Montana. Identifying the steps to take to make this goal achievable began with teaching homebuyer’s classes. Classes were held in the past until SKHA was informed that instructors must be HUD certified to be a housing counselor.
Homebuyers on the reservation were not able to take the class through SKHA until this requirement was met. Five employees at SKHA attempted the test which was rigorous, challenging, and demoralizing. Employees at SKHA weren’t the only ones discouraged by the exam as people throughout the state were also failing the exam. The test’s difficulty caused a one-year gap in SKHA being able to hold homebuyer’s classes. Tribal members had to take an online course through NeighborWorks Montana’s website and pay $99.
After studying for months, taking the exam several times, and staying motivated to pass; Richard Pierre is a HUD certified housing counselor at SKHA. This achievement was recognized at a state housing conference this year and SKHA threw a pizza party for him. Following in his footsteps are other SKHA employees who are waiting to take the exam. SKHA hopes to have at least two HUD certified housing counselors.
The main goal of the coalition was to promote HUD certified housing counselors. Now that Pierre passed the exam, the coalition is brainstorming ways to help others pass the difficult exam. Naomi Valentine from NeighborWorks Montana volunteered to assist Pierre but said she was more like a cheerleader as he deserves all the credit for his hard work.
Members of the Coalition
Martin NoRunner is the Director at Habitat for Humanity in Great Falls. NoRunner is a member of the Blackfeet Tribe and operates a recycling business in Missoula. His efforts to expand homeownership for all people, as well as Native Americans in Montana, are shared with the rest of the coalition.
NoRunner also believes that building infrastructure on reservations means creating jobs that pay a livable wage so that potential homeowners can afford a mortgage. NoRunner and Rod Trahan brainstormed ways to build homes that cost less to build, are energy efficient, and meet the needs of the homeowners. Not every person living on a reservation wants to be tied to a mortgage. Changing the way people view homeownership and understanding the lifestyles of people on the reservation is key to constructing homes that are affordable and durable.
“Achieving meaningful change is the long-term effort that requires the coordinated, persistent involvement of many to launch the work that paves the way for community readiness, asset deployment, and collective support.”-MT Native Homeowners Coalition Strategic Plan
Tonya Plummer is the Director of Native American Housing Programs for Enterprise Community Partners. She’s Assiniboine, Dakota, and Cree with years of experience working in mortgage banking. According to her bio on enterprisecommunity.org, “Tonya is a bridge builder, linking Native and Tribal housing providers and partner organizations to bring capital, development and the restoration of thriving Tribal economies to Indian country.”
Kathy Rollyson is Vice President of Social Impact and Sustainability at Wells Fargo. Rollyson arrived with good news that the coalition was awarded a grant for $400,000. The funds will be used to hire a Coordinator for the Coalition. The position is a remote job that the coalition is seeking to fill as soon as possible. SKHA is the fiscal sponsor and NeighborWorks will oversee the position.
Jack Lawson is the President and CEO of Clearwater Credit Union (CCU). CCU is the second largest credit union in Montana and is also the largest Treasury Department certified CDFI in Montana. According to their website, “Clearwater Credit Union is part of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV). Those aren’t just pretty words: our values drive our strategic plan and shape our company culture.”
Naomi Valentine is the Housing Network Coordinator at NeighborWorks Montana. Valentine is from Montana and believes that reaching out to one another and helping each other with respect to homeownership is what makes the coalition successful.
“I have the perspective of looking at Montana as one giant neighborhood,” said Valentine. “My thought is building those connections so that we each see ourselves and our agencies, not as isolated places that are struggling through these things alone, that we see ourselves as neighbors that are part of a neighborhood. We can learn from each other. We can reach out to one another. Everyone will do better together and rise together.”
Hanna Tester is the Homeownership Director at NeighborWorks Montana (NWMT). According to the NWMT’s website, Tester’s bio states that “She believes safe and stable homeownership is the key to generational wealth building for Montana families and is passionate about NeighborWorks Montana’s mission to reduce barriers to that opportunity for families.”
Rodney Trahan is a member of the Northern Cheyenne and is the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Housing Authority (NCTHA) Executive Director. Trahan praised SKHA for their efforts to develop housing and homeownership on the reservation. Trahan aspires to learn from SKHA and implement similar things on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
“I’m glad that we’re making progress. I think that’s the key to having this entity gain momentum,” Trahan said.
Maria Valandra is Vice President of Community Partnerships at Clearwater Credit Union. Valandra has 20 plus years of business and community development. She was also the Business Development Officer at Island Mountain Development Group, Bureau Chief at Montana Department of Commerce, and worked for 18 years at First Interstate Bank in various roles.
Carrie Irvine was a long time SKHA employee who now serves on the Board of Commissioners. Irvine came out of retirement to assist SKHA Director, Jody Cahoon-Perez and still plays a role at SKHA. Her wealth of knowledge from working at SKHA for 40 years is an asset.
Following introductions and breakout sessions where strategic plans, tasks, and discussions on what worked or didn’t work were discussed; the coalition took a tour of the new one-bedroom units that will celebrate a ribbon-cutting on October 2, the CSKT Cares Housing at Maggie Ashley, and the future site of the Grizzly Bear Home Sites on Clairmont Road in Pablo.
For more information about the coalition, visit https://www.nwmt.org/mt-native-homeownership-coalition/ or for information about homeownership programs at SKHA visit skha.org or call (406)675-4491.