Senate passes Thune, Rounds bill to improve BIA’s trust land mortgage lending

The U.S. Senate on July 18 approved a bipartisan bill introduced by U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) to accelerate the review and processing of mortgages on trust land by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

The Tribal Trust Land Homeownership Act of 2023, S. 70, which Sen. Thune sponsored in January alongside three original cosponsors, including Sen. Rounds and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), would create statutory timelines in which the BIA would be required to process mortgages involving property located on tribal trust land.

Additionally, S. 70 would enhance the ability of certain federal agencies to operate their tribal housing programs and improve communication between the BIA and tribes, tribal members, and lenders through the establishment of a realty ombudsman within the BIA who can communicate with relevant parties, according to the bill summary provided by the lawmakers.

The Senate-approved S. 70 passed the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee in May.

“Affordable housing opportunities on tribal trust land can be hard to come by in South Dakota and across the nation due in part to the BIA’s challenging mortgage approval process, which can complicate lenders’ ability to provide financing to prospective homebuyers and participate in federal tribal housing programs,” said Sen. Thune and Sen. Rounds in a joint statement released on July 19.

The senators pointed out that S. 70 would expedite this mortgage approval process, hold the BIA accountable, and encourage more lenders to provide mortgages across Indian Country.

“This would expand tribal members’ access to homeownership,” they said. “We applaud the Senate’s passage of our bill, and we hope the House of Representatives considers it in short order.”

The identical bill, H.R. 3579, introduced on May 22 by U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD), is under consideration by the U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Insular Affairs. The subcommittee on July 12 held hearings on the bill.

The measure is supported by the National American Indian Housing Council and the Mortgage Banker Association.