Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

August 10, 2012

Cherokee families get keys to homes

FORT GIBSON — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker fulfilled a campaign commitment Thursday, as seven families received keys to their new tribally constructed homes.

For decades, the tribe’s Housing Authority built homes for citizens on land held in trust. In 2007, the tribal council approved legislation dissolving the Housing Authority, opting to provide mortgage assistance rather than building homes.

Mortgage assistance and home rehabilitation are still available; home-building has been added to the tribe’s housing program.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am to see these families move into their homes today,” said Baker. “It has been a dream of mine for so many years to see the Cherokee Nation return to building homes for our citizens. As happy as I am for this day to come, I can assure you, no one is happier than these families standing here today. I speak on behalf of all the Cherokee Nation when I say welcome to your new home.”

All seven residences are three-bedroom, 1-1/2-bath brick homes near Fort Gibson in Muskogee County.

Mail carrier Erica Leafer, 36, is a Cherokee citizen and the mother of four children. Until Thursday, Leafer had been living with her mother in Muskogee.

“It’s exciting,” said Leafer. “We’ll move in a little later on when it gets cooler. The kids have always gone to Fort Gibson schools, and they’re so excited about moving into the new house. They’ll live closer to their friends, and that’s really great.”

The program’s goal is to build 300 new homes per year for citizens living in the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction who earn $15,000 or more per year. Since the program doesn’t use federal funds, there are no low-income restrictions.

Leafer said she’s thrilled the tribe is building homes.

“I think it’s wonderful that they’re building houses again,” said Leafer. “Rent is way out there [expensive]. Some people pay $600 a month for a three-bedroom place, and we’re paying $350, and it includes taxes and insurance.”

According to the Cherokee Nation, homeowners pay $350 per month mortgage on a 30-year term. Schools in the area will also benefit from the home ownership program, as public schools receive $2,800 in federal impact aid for each Indian child in the district living in Indian housing.

Hilldale Middle School sixth-grade teacher Melissa Patterson, also a Cherokee citizen, is moving from a rented two-bedroom house in Muskogee.

“My family is so excited about this house,” said Patterson. “It’s the first time my kids have ever had rooms of their own. The economy hasn’t been very good. I work two jobs, and everything seems to be going higher, except for peoples’ paychecks. The Cherokee Nation has just done incredible things for my family.”

Baker initiated the housing program immediately after taking office in November 2011.

“Growing up, I saw the impact the tribe’s mutual help homes had on families I knew,” said Baker. “It built capital, self-esteem and even improved the grades of children in those homes. Our tribal citizens today can still benefit from all those things.”

More than 950 Cherokee citizens have signed up for the program. Those who already own land will be among the first to have homes built.

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