The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian homeowners. According to the US Census Bureau, there are 2.1 million Native households in the United States. Of these, around 1.1 million, or 53 percent, are homeowners. (This category includes American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians alone or in combination with one or more races.) Centuries of systemic racism, disinvestment, displacement, and resource extraction have limited capital in their communities.

As a result, Native households—both those who live on tribal land and off—experienced disparate economic hardships long before the COVID-19 crisis, and evidence suggests the pandemic’s economic impact may be more acute for Native homeowners. For example, Native homeowners have faced higher unemployment rates during the COVID-19 shutdowns and have had trouble accessing pandemic-related federal assistance.

The American Rescue Plan Act allotted $10 billion for a Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) to further support the recovery of homeowners with low incomes and homeowners who historically have faced barriers to homeownership. HAF includes allocations specifically for distribution by tribes and tribal leaders.

This assistance is critical but is not a one-shot solution for Native homeowners. To ensure Native communities can keep their homes, both on tribal land and off, HAF distribution efforts should center the needs and voices of Native homeowners.

States are beginning to distribute funds from HAF to offer financial relief for qualifying homeowners. To serve Native communities, $482 million of HAF’s total funds are allocated for distribution by tribes and tribal entities.

But HAF allocations account for only one-third of the increase in past-due homeowner costs (principal, interest, tax, and insurance payments) during the pandemic. Considering Native communities face disproportionate housing risk and have had prior difficulties receiving pandemic-related federal assistance, states can take the following steps to maximize HAF’s benefit to Native populations:

  1. Include Native homeowners in state distribution plans
  2. Offer technical assistance and knowledge sharing 

Read the full article about supporting Native homeowners by John Walsh and Michael Neal at Urban Institute.