Native Americans using a special Veterans Affairs home loan program will see their interest rates slashed by more than half as part of a new inititative to make housing more affordable for them.
The move is only expected to affect a few hundred veterans over the next few years. But it represents the latest in a series of outreach efforts by VA officials to disenfranchised groups of veterans and specifically to Native Americans, whose unique status has sometimes caused difficulties in obtaining department benefits.
In January, department leaders proposed a new rule to waive medical copayments for American Indian and Alaska Native veterans. Last November, the department unveiled a new partnership between VA and the Indian Health Service to explore ways to increase health care access and quality for the same group.
VA’s Native American Direct Loan program in fiscal 2022 covered 520 loans totaling almost $83 million. About 1,200 individuals have participated in the program since it was launched in 1992.The program is open to Native American veterans and veterans married to Native Americans who did not serve. The department currently has agreements with 111 Native American tribes of the 574 federally recognized tribes across the country, and hopes to expand that number in coming years.
Under the changes announced Wednesday, new participants in the direct loan program will see their rate decreased from the current 6% to 2.5% for properties on trust land overseen by federally recognized tribes. The lower rate on a $200,000 home can save property owners nearly $5,000 a year. VA officials said the 2.5% rate will be guaranteed for all new buyers until at least March 2025.
Individuals already participating in the program with an interest rate of 3.5% or higher will have the opportunity to refinance their loans to the lower rate.
“Native American veterans are now able to more affordably buy, build, and improve homes on trust land,” John Bell III, executive director of the VA Loan Guaranty Service, said in a statement.
Native Americans who buy homes outside of tribe land are not eligible for the program, but can use traditional VA home loans for those purchases.
More information on the program is available through the VA’s program hotline at 888-349-7541 or through the department’s web site.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.