About this guide

Native communities understand that housing is about so much more than a roof over one’s head; rental housing provides community economic development, job creation, health, and a safety net to Native families, while providing more opportunities to lead a better quality of life close to tribal land and ancestors. Multifamily development is achievable and beneficial on tribal lands, when done right. The goal of this guide is to cut through the complicated and burdensome process of developing affordable rental housing on Native land, and to give developers a phased approach to use when tackling their project.

While many Native developers and tribes have developed multifamily housing over the years, multifamily housing may be less familiar to many Native developers, because Native American and rural areas overwhelmingly favor single-family development while resources in place for multifamily housing favor higher-density communities. However, tribes are increasingly recognizing that multifamily housing can be a valuable component of increasing the overall housing stock, especially in service to Native youth and young families hoping for more options that allow them to remain close to tribal lands. This guide offers examples of multifamily housing that supports a continuum of care for people experiencing homelessness to those looking for homeownership options; incorporates green building and energy efficiency; and is designed using tribal engagement, culture, and traditions to inform design and programming. 

Tribes are increasingly recognizing that multifamily housing can be a valuable component of increasing the overall housing stock, especially in service of Native youth and young families.

Who Should Use This Guide

This guide by design assists Native developers, including tribal housing divisions, Tribally-Designated Housing Authorities (TDHEs), Native nonprofit organizations, Community Development Corporations (CDCs), and even Native Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). Tribal elected officials and Housing Board members may find it useful as well, to understand the scope of new development and as a guide to determine their priorities. This can be seen as a tool for any stakeholder who is involved in the complex process of developing housing on Native land.

Tribes themselves need to be included in housing conversations. The Housing Department needs to work with their economic development departments and planners, public works for water and sewer, EPA or environmental departments, building inspectors, legal departments, enrollment, Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) and others. Housing needs to be included when discussing a comprehensive plan for economic development, housing is an important element for tribes to have. Tribal leadership understanding the federal responsibility under IHBG and any other grant housing has to administer can be key to the project’s success. The Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) might also benefit from this guide, as they are important to any project on the Reservation as it relates to both Native and non-native contractors.

Non-Native organizations who are interested in developing Native multifamily housing, such as CDCs, CDFIs, or other for- or non-profit developers in the region, may also be interested in this guide. However, these non-Native organizations should always partner with the tribal entity for a given development project: this partnership is necessary primarily out of respect for tribal sovereignty but also for accessing important capital streams and approvals at nearly every step of the process. Partnerships between Native and non-Native organizations are both achievable and beneficial, and this guide includes information to consider when forming such partnerships (See: Assembling your project team).

Finally, stakeholders in the broader affordable housing sphere have an important role to play in Native multi-family development as well, and for them this guide can assist with a deeper understanding of critical policies, financial support, and regulatory burden for Native developers. These stakeholders may include national nonprofits, technical assistance providers, investors and loan providers, or state and federal elected officials.

How to Use This Guide

The Native Housing Developers Guide is divided into 6 sections or “Phases,” each following a phase of multifamily housing development. The phases are Visioning, Predevelopment, Securing Funding, Design and Approvals, Construction, and Stewardship. Within each section are a few key ideas, typically highlighting capacity, funding, and community stewardship. Useful toolkits, checklists, and worksheets for developers occupy various sections of each chapter.

While this guide outlines a few key phases, it’s important to remember that development is an iterative and non-linear process. You may find yourself circling back to topics addressed in visioning or predevelopment time after time. This is to be expected. No two Native communities are alike, and no two affordable housing developments are either. Depending on what phase your affordable housing project is at, or where you want to learn more, start with that phase. Keep in mind some materials may have been covered in earlier phases.

The website allows you to easily navigate between different phases of this guide.

Enterprise Community Partners has also previously published the Tribal Leaders Handbook on Homeownership and Enhancing and Implementing Homeownership Programs in Native Communities which will be helpful resources for communities or developers seeking to learn more about creating homeownership opportunities.

Contact: Evelyn Immonen (

Graphic Design Heidi Cuny, Cuny Communications

Web Development and Design: Report Kitchen

Published December 2021

Updated April 2022


Gratitude goes out to the many individuals and organizations that provided their expertise and knowledge in the creation of these materials. It is their insights and experiences that ground this tool and raise it up:

  • Betsy McGovern-Garcia, Program Director at Self-Help Enterprises
  • Zoe LeBeau, Supportive Housing Consultant, CEO, BeauxSimone Consulting
  • Katie Symons, CFO, BeauxSimone Consulting
  • Barbara Roloff, Seven Sisters Community Development Group, LLC
  • Leslie Newman, Seven Sisters Community Development Group, LLC
  • Robin Thorne, Vice President, RT Hawk Housing Alliance
  • Susan Vogel and Michelle Running Wolf, CRHA

Land Acknowledgement

We write these words from North America in Native space and on the traditional lands of over 574 Indigenous tribes. In our publication, we acknowledge that this land stewarded, cultivated, and loved by Native People for centuries, and since time immemorial. We acknowledge that the affordable housing industry has a valuable responsibility to continue to steward and cultivate the ties between Native People and the land in which we reside, and that there is a long way to go to heal the suffering of our ancestors. Through honoring our ancestors and the land, we acknowledge our inseparable connectedness with everything in the world. We ask you to remember that wherever you are in the Americas, you are on Native space sacredly linked to Indigenous people. May all that we do and strive to be in these Native spaces honor the land and prepare the way for those to come.

* We have chosen to primarily use the term Native throughout this report, in an effort to be more inclusive of all of our Native partners. That said, there will be times when this report discusses Indian Country when in discussion of congressional designations of land and land allotment. We realize that not all of our Indigenous and Native partners self- identify in the same way and that not all populations identify with these terms. We know that language is constantly evolving—and so will we.

About Enterprise Community Partners

Enterprise Community Partners is a national nonprofit th​​at exists to make a good home possible for the millions of families without one.

Enterprise supports community development organizations on the ground. We aggregate and invest capital for impact in homes and communities. We advance housing policy at every level of government. We build and manage communities ourselves. Everything we do is informed by the residents we serve.​​

Together with our partners, we focus on the greatest need – the massive shortage of affordable rental homes – to achieve three goals:

  • Increase the supply of affordable homes 

  • Advance racial equity after decades of systematic racism in housing

  • Support residents and strengthen communities to be resilient to the unpredictable and make upward mobility possible

Since 1982, we have invested $44 billion and created 781,000 homes across all 50 states. All to make home and community places of pride, power and belonging.

Enterprise’s Tribal Nations and Rural market team provides capacity building support to rural, Native and tribal housing organizations, such as TDHEs and THAs.

Special thanks to our Funders

About Fannie Mae

Fannie Mae was chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1938 to provide a reliable source of affordable mortgage financing across the country. Today, their mission continues to provide a stable source of liquidity to support low- and moderate-income mortgage borrowers and renters.





About American Express

Since 1850, American Express has worked to make a difference in our customers' lives in ways that matter most to them. Our backing extends beyond our customers to the communities where we live and work. We respect our communities and are committed to working together so they can thrive and make a meaningful difference in the world.
American Express

About Goldman Sachs

A leader in impact investing for over 20 years, the Urban Investment Group (UIG) within Goldman Sachs Asset Management is a double-bottom line investing group focused on creating economic opportunity for low-income communities and underserved small businesses.






A Brief History of Native Land

How did Native land get the complicated status it has today? This historical overview lays out the origins of the land tenure system in Indian Country – providing a basic primer on both the history and the law behind the property ownership patterns throughout Indian Country. As this is just an overview, we strongly suggest you read more information in the Tribal Leaders Handbook on Homeownership, or in some of the Native-owned and authored sources cited below.

Original Property Rights and Marshall trilogy

Prior to European contact, Native peoples abided by their own systems for recognizing and enforcing property rights to their territory and resources. The term "Indian Country" was first used in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, following Great Britain's acquisition of French territory in North America. The early treaties between European nations and tribes reflected a nation-to-nation relationship, where trade and commerce, and agreements of protection were formalized in treaties.

Under the new United States, ownership of lands acquired from tribes were some of the first cases of the Supreme Court. In 1823, the Court decided Johnson v. M’Intosh, a decision where the Supreme Court recognized the superior power of the federal government to acquire lands from Indians, a legal precedent deriving from the Doctrine of Discovery. Tribes no longer held absolute title and authority over their lands – they had a mere beneficial right of occupancy.

Although limiting sovereignty, the Court attempted to protect tribes’ rights to occupy their lands. A few years later, the Supreme Court reinforced these protections in Worcester v. Georgia, finding that state laws did not apply on tribal lands. These early Supreme Court decisions, known as the Marshall Trilogy, not only recalibrated federal-tribal relationships, but they also sanctioned rapid westward expansion through large-scale acquisition of Indian lands and the creation of the reservation system.

The General Allotment Act to the Indian Reorganization Act

Until the 1887 General Allotment Act, land on Indian reservations was held in common by all members of an Indian nation. Many believed that Indian people should take up agriculture and adopt the “civilized” lifestyle of white settlers, since they were eager to see those lands opened up for settlement and industry.

Under the Allotment Act, reservation lands were divided into parcels, typically of 160 acres, and each tribal member was designated as owner of a parcel or “allotment.” Individual Indian allotments were to be held in trust for a period of 25 years after which the land was to be transferred to fee simple ownership and could then be sold or mortgaged. Lands that were not allotted were declared “surplus to Indian needs.” Tribes were forced to cede those lands to the federal government for a nominal payment, and the land was opened to non-Indian homesteaders, sold to railroads, or converted to public lands.

The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 put an end to the allotment practice. This “New Deal” legislation for American Indians renewed their rights to organize and form their own governments. Between 1888 and 1934, about 90 million acres of land were transferred from Indian reservations to non-Indian and out-of-Indian management, leaving about 56 million acres and resulting in a reduction of about 60 percent of an already diminished land base.

What remained was a checkerboard pattern of Indian and non-Indian lands interspersed throughout the reservation, making it difficult to decipher jurisdiction over a particular plot of land. Consequently, with each generation, the number of co-owners of a parcel increases while each heir’s interest decreases, resulting in a highly fractionated ownership of many parcels which impedes decision making.

Indian Country Defined

In 1948, Congress defined the term Indian Country to help clarify the territory over which tribes exercised their jurisdiction. It includes lands within Indian reservations, dependent Indian communities, and private off-reservation allotments. Consistent with this statutory definition, as well as federal case law, lands held in trust for Indian tribes outside formal reservations also are considered Indian Country, such as in Oklahoma. Furthermore, even outside the formal contours of Indian Country, tribes in Alaska, for example, have considerable jurisdiction and authority to manage internal tribal affairs and protect tribal members.

Today, about 60 million acres of Native land are held in trust by the federal government and managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior for the use and benefit of the 574 federally recognized tribes. Social and cultural connections to the land remain strong for the 5.2 million American Indian and Alaska Native peoples. A high percentage of this rapidly growing population (about 60 percent) lives on or near reservations, and Native communities are looking for opportunities to unlock the economic potential of their lands.

Understanding this complex land tenure system on Native land is essential to successful economic and community development activity, as much depends on the status of the land. Development on tribal trust lands requires federal approval, but the larger implication is that the land cannot be leveraged as collateral because the land cannot be sold.[1]

Since multiple generations have been born since the original allotment policy was carried out, one parcel of land may have hundreds of people who have rights to that parcel. While permission for a specific use of the land historically needed to be obtained from each person with a stake in a parcel, recently, a number of tribes have enacted policies to allow for percentages of less than 100% of signatures.

[1] Leichenko, R. Housing and Economic Development in Indian Country: Challenge and Opportunity, Routledge. 2018.


  • Tribal Trust Land. Much of the land within the boundaries of a reservation is “tribal trust land”— held in trust by the federal government for the tribe, so new buildings must be approved by the tribe.

  • Allotted trust land. A significant amount of trust land is held in trust for individuals. If an individual tribal member wants to use a parcel of allotted land, this individual must obtain the permission (signature) of all or some of those who have rights to this allotment.

  • Fee simple land. Fee simple land refers to land that is not held in trust status. Much of the fee simple land within reservations was taken out of trust status, but may now be owned by the tribe, a tribal member, or a non-tribal member.

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