2018 Travois Conference: Three takeaways from successful tribal developers

Kristen Wamego of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation (PBPN) and Sharie Benson of Yavapai-Apache Nation Tribal Housing (YANTH) took the stage with Architect Adam Teefey and me earlier this month at the 18th Annual Travois Conference to share their development experiences.

As executive director, Sharie (pictured above) has led YANTH through multiple affordable housing developments and milestones, including recently completing their fifth and sixth LIHTC projects and opening the Yavapai-Apache Homes #5 community building.

Kristen (pictured above) is director of tribal operations for PBPN and has been instrumental in ensuring the success of the nation’s third Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) development, Southwood Estates Phase #2. (Read more here.)

If you missed it, here are three takeaways they shared:

1. A strong development team, made up of internal staff and outside consultants and partners, is essential.
“Have a good team to surround you — from construction to finance to housing. Having Travois involved in the process has been extremely helpful,” Kristen said.

Get the right people and hold onto them,” Sharie said. Later, she said: “My daily commute is an hour. Four out of five days, I’m calling Travois people on my commute. They make it so easy. They have the answers. If they don’t have the answers, they’ll find them.”

2. The development process, especially the construction phase, often has unexpected turns and requires troubleshooting and creative problem-solving.
Sharie told a story about a huge mountain of dirt that was created during construction of Yavapai-Apache Homes #5 that was taller than YANTH’s warehouse building. She said it was around 86,000 cubic yards. Hiring someone to move the dirt was going to cost $250,000. One day, she realized this dirt could fill a nearby crater and make it into something new. YANTH took a mountain and a crater and turned them into the Yavapai-Apache Homes #6 park.

“It was probably the proudest moment we had,” Sharie said. “We did something really crazy, and it worked out.” And it cost a lot less.

3. Plan ahead, get involved and communicate.
Sharie stressed the importance of having a plan in place for infrastructure. Get involved with your state’s Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP), so you know what’s happening in the state. Start building your team. Communicate as much as you can with the political leaders you have. And start talking with Travois/your consultant.

We thank Kristen and Sharie for telling their stories and congratulate both for getting over the hurdles to create more affordable homes for their communities!