August 2012

Honoring the Past by Embracing the Future:


Building Green Economies in Indian Country


Dave Castillo and Dana Lanza


The beauty of the land and inspiration for the green movement stands in stark contrast to the state of housing and public infrastructure on tribal lands. The fact that more equitable access to capital and green technology can help enhance both tribal communities and the green economy inspired the establishment of the Southwest Native Green Loan Fund.

Banks typically will not make loans for public projects on tribal trust lands. Moreover, available grant funding alone is insufficient to cover the costs of the development needed on Indian reservations. Yet there remains significant unmet need for funds, as reflected in the lack of safe, decent and affordable housing, as well as modern public infrastructure to safeguard the health and livelihood of tribal citizens residing on Indian reservations. In the words of Aneva Yazzie, Navajo Housing Authority CEO, “There is an immediate need for over 65,000 units of new and rehabilitated housing on the vast Navajo Nation. The estimated total development cost stands at over $8 billion—more than 10 times the amount of federal housing funds available for all tribes nationally. Moreover, due to a severe lack of bank financing in general—and particularly on Indian reservations—an innovative approach is needed.”


Although public sector program regulations now incentivize sustainable design, too many tribes still lack the resources to plan for and incorporate sustainability into their projects. The US Department of the Treasury has confirmed that Native American communities generally lack access to credit, capital and financial services. Moreover, compared to other communities, Indian Country receives a disproportionately low amount of philanthropic support. Globally, Indigenous peoples receive less than 1 percent of all grant dollars.


The Southwest Native Green Loan Fund is a direct response to the need to overcome the barriers that have kept American Indian communities from fully participating in the green economy. The Fund is a partnership between the public sector and philanthropic entities based in the United States. It seeks to leverage some $10 million in state grant funds appropriated annually for tribal infrastructure projects (i.e. electricity, water, wastewater, etc) with a below-market rate. In addition to augmenting existing grant programs, the Fund provides financing options that favor green tribal community development projects.


The Loan Fund is housed and managed by Native Home Capital, a Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) selected through a competitive process. A consortium of foundations led by the nonprofit Confluence Philanthropy constructed the Fund. Confluence is a membership-based association that helps foundations create innovative solutions to intractable social and environmental problems by leveraging the millions of dollars in their endowments.


The Fund is also partnering with the public sector and other grant programs. The model involves assembling disparate funding and financing sources that individually either lack an understanding of how to effectively work with tribes or lack financing products that fit the needs of tribes. Working together, tribes can be offered a combined grant/loan option.


Due to the inequity in access to capital, tribes are typically overly dependent on public sector funds alone. Even before the reduction in federal grant funding, tribes were generally underfunded – recall the Navajo need for $8 billion in comparison to the approximately $750 million available in annual funding for tribal housing nationwide. The Native Green Loan Fund seeks to stretch existing tribal funds so that the majority of the award continues in the form of a grant and an additional low-interest loan is made available to cover green project components. Native Home Capital staff works in partnership with grant-making agencies to conduct due diligence on the loans, outreach- and technical assistance to applicants. Local nonprofits and other partners aid in green design elements.


To learn more about the Native Green Loan Fund contact Dave Castillo, CEO, Native Home Capital.



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