Loan program attracts first-time home buyers ◆ By Mike Hiles
Growing up as a child on the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians Reservation near San Jacinto during the 1960s was quite challenging for Frances Diaz and her family.
"Our family of six children, my parents and my maternal grandmother lived in a one-bedroom home with a small kitchen, no inside plumbing, no indoor bathroom or heating/cooling," Diaz recalled. "Ultimately, this is what kept me focused on continuing my efforts to help our people get adequate, safe housing."
As Housing Manager for the reservation, she helps tribal members navigate the journey of building a new home on the reservation. Diaz coordinates with Indian Health Services and utility companies to ensure all Ts are crossed and Is are dotted as far as the infrastructure involved with any new home's construction. She walks the young families through the process since it is all new to them.
Diaz has worked as a volunteer in the area of housing for the past 30 years, having served as the Tribe's representative to the All Mission Indian Housing Authority (AMIHA), a consortium of nine tribes within Riverside, Santa Barbara and San Diego counties.
"Originally, in the late 1960s when this organization was formed there were 15 tribal government members. Their mission and goal was to provide safe, decent and affordable homes for our native people," Diaz explained. "The funds were available nationwide to native tribes, funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Because the funding was awarded on a competitive basis, our chances of getting funded were better if we represented a larger native population."
The first home construction was awarded in the early 1970s, with 12 new homes built on the Soboba reservation. Over the years, about 100 homes were constructed under the HUD low-income housing project through the AMIHA Housing Program.
In more recent years, Soboba tribal members no longer met the income criteria to qualify for the funding but the tribe set aside tribal funds to the Soboba Tribal Credit board to administer home loans to qualified tribal members for construction of new homes. Diaz is still involved with AMIHA, sitting on its board of commissions as a way to continually strive to provide homes for all native communities.
Currently there are two homes being constructed. Nicole Diaz, Frances' granddaughter, will soon move from a rented home in San Jacinto into her new four-bedroom, three-bath 2,500 square-foot home with a three-car garage. Along with husband, Tony Mendoza, and four children under the age of five, the family has enjoyed watching the construction process, on the family's acreage.
The reservation's land is all tribal property but the tribe recognizes family assignments and plots are handed down to the next generation by custom and tradition.
Nicole Diaz's girls attend the Soboba Tribal Preschool so living closer to it will make things easier for the young mom.
"We've lived in San Jacinto for about three and half years so we are really excited to be up here closer to family," said Nicole, 22.
Another home under construction is for tribal member Cheyenne Chacon and has five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a huge kitchen. Two other building loans have been approved and two more are in the pipeline. Diaz said five families are ready to build, pending paperwork.
"By building homes on the reservation again, we are becoming even more self-sufficient," Diaz said. "I am very proud to be a part of this historical time for this housing project to be underway and for these young families to take advantage of this opportunity in providing for their family's future."
The program has been successful in part to the hard work and dedication Credit Manager Carol Orozco put into action before Diaz was brought on board.
"Carol has an extensive background and a wealth of knowledge in the banking field and is a proven self starter," Diaz said.
Orozco works closely with Diaz in coordinating the loan and housing needs of the tribal members. Both departments work under the direction of the Tribe's Tribal Administrator Michael Castello.
Diaz also serves as president of the Soboba Elders Board and sits on the board of directors for the Riverside-San Bernardino Indian Health Clinic.
"I am honored to have been hired as an independent contractor to administer the tribal housing program here at Soboba. It makes it convenient that I live right here and I'm able to meet with vendors or builders or the families, if needed; I am not confined to only being available during regular office hours," Diaz said. "Staying busy and involved helps me stay young."
Information, Soboba Tribal Credit/Carol Orozco, Manager: 951-654-5544 ext. 4131 and Soboba Tribal Housing Department/Frances Diaz, Manager: 951-654-5544 ext. 4145.