Travois honors industry “superheroes” at annual conference

Travois recognized four outstanding industry professionals and three Tribal Department Housing Entities at its 22nd annual conference in San Diego, CA.

“These honorees have filled their communities with beautiful homes, successful businesses and created thousands of jobs with the use of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and New Market Tax Credit programs,” said Elizabeth Glynn, Travois chief executive officer. “Our annual awards ceremony celebrates the important work of housing and economic development professionals and provides inspiration to all in attendance.”

The professionals were nominated by their peers and selected by Travois’ awards committee. The 2022 Superhero Award recipients are:

Housing Professional of the Year: Nicole Sager, Executive Director of the Yurok Indian Housing Authority; Klamath, CA

Nicole Sager represents the highest professional standards and brings new ideas and a fresh perspective to the task of providing affordable housing.

“One of the biggest challenges facing all Native American communities is substandard, overcrowded housing units,” said Nicole Sager. “It is an honor to work on such an important issue within Yurok communities.  The work that it takes to secure funding and construct new units is limitless but the ability to provide a student, or a family, or an elder with a place to live is so precious that it’s easy to forget the struggle.”

Sager works every single day to better her community. Her economic development and housing career spans nearly 15 years. She has served in various capacities within the tribe’s planning department and has served as YIHA executive director for nearly four years.

In her role as executive director, Sager has led two successful LIHTC projects and has managed both projects simultaneously. One development, located in a remote community near the Klamath River, required her oversight of a housing authority force account crew in building new homes and rehabilitating existing homes. The second development is a major new construction project within the city of Arcata. Sager’s singular focus is bringing affordable housing opportunities to individuals and families that desperately need it. She has helped provide 53 homes for families in her community.

Economic Development Professional of the Year – Dustin Goslin, Vice President of Business & Economic Development for Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures; Onamia, MN

Dustin Goslin sparks positive change in his community. He brings vision, tenacity, and high expectations to all he does.

“I have been privileged to be connected to supportive family, friends, and organizations that help ignite passion which powers me to do exciting, complex work,” said Dustin Goslin. “Working in tribal communities for much of my life I have found that many young Tribal people don’t have that same network of support that I had; so, it has been my goal to find ways to leverage myself to help support and grow others. The projects I work on are a natural extension of that.”

Goslin works to build economic vibrancy and resilience to the Mille Lacs tribal economy through his work at Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures. He and his team connect people and capital to leverage sustainable investments in business, workforce housing and planned infrastructure. Through his work on two successful LIHTC projects, Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures has provided 58 new homes for tribal members and shown that affordable housing investments are economic development. Goslin and his team have successfully brought tribal and non-tribal partners together to increase prosperity in a rural and economically distressed region.

Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures works to create a stronger tribal economy and a more prosperous future for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. In 2022, Goslin and his team secured a $5.5 million federal appropriation to expand broadband connectivity in Pine County, MN. They also secured $3.5 million in federal dollars to build Tribal Economy Business incubators. And were successful in securing a $500,000 state grant to develop a new daycare facility that will offer 63 new childcare spots near a new LIHTC development.

Pillar Professional of the Year — Paul Irwin, Executive Housing Director for the North Fork Rancheria Indian Housing Authority; North Fork, CA

Paul Irwin is a key player in building the North Fork Rancheria community. Irwin knows how to manage a project, stretch a dollar, and deliver a quality product on time.

“I am very humbled to be recognized,” said Paul Irwin. “Our LIHTC project would not be possible without my project team. I would like to recognize and thank my staff, board and tribal council for trusting in this process, and countless others from our civil engineers to tribal and LIHTC attorneys, and also thank those from Travois who helped secure and guide us through our LIHTC award.”

Under leadership of its executive housing director, Paul Irwin, NFRIHA mapped out the steps needed to provide safe, affordable housing for tribal citizens. With careful planning and creative financing, NFRIHA’s efforts will bring 12 single-family homes and seven duplexes (14 units) to the community.

Site planning and infrastructure began in 2017, and the NFRIHA used HUD grants to update the site environmental assessment and install water storage tank. In 2019, the housing authority successfully applied for and received a $5 million competitive IHBG grant to fund civil infrastructure. After an unsuccessful Low Income Housing Tax Credit application in 2019, a resubmission in 2020 secured $10.6 million in investor equity for the development. The team also secured $1.7 million to fund water and wastewater infrastructure from Indian Health Services.

Irwin’s attention to detail is outstanding. Irwin navigated the complex application phase, closing, and bid negotiations and is currently performing regular construction inspections. Irwin’s open communication skills with all teams involved has insured smooth operations from application into the construction process. The development is under construction with an anticipated completion date of Fall 2022.

“This has been a challenging time for construction with material and labor shortages and cost increases,” Irwin continued. “We have worked diligently to keep the project within budget and according to schedule to the extent possible while focusing on achieving a quality product.”

Irwin maintains the highest standards for his department and developments and provides the community with safe, affordable housing.

Haven Professional of the Year — Julia Culpus, Tax Credit Resident Services Specialist at the Warm Springs Housing Authority; Warm Springs, OR

Julia Culpus helps ensure Indian Country housing remains strong for the future. Culpus’ work ethic and dedication to helping families in her community is inspiring.

“I love what I do,” said Julia Culpus. To me, home is not a place. It’s a feeling and where the best memories are created. The best part is seeing the happy faces of families moving into their new homes. My work feels more complete knowing I could help.”

Culpus listens to the needs of the families she serves and puts plans into action, she works tirelessly to ensure the wheels stay in motion, the units get rented up, and the needs of her community are served. Culpus maintained 100% occupancy and recertified all tenants prior to the due date while facing major hurdles: fires, a pandemic, and contaminated units. Culpus is committed to providing safe and affordable housing to tribal members.

Project Team of the Year — Pascua Yaqui Tribe Housing Department; Tucson, AZ

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe Housing Department represents the best in Indian Country development. The team has used new ideas and courageous action to ensure its developments success.

“It is such an honor to have our work recognized, especially when that recognition comes from our peers in the housing industry,” said Keith Gregory, housing director for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Housing Department. “We are fortunate to have a visionary Tribal Council and a dedicated and hardworking team of housing professionals here that have committed themselves to the creation and management of industry leading housing programming. To receive this award is to acknowledge the efforts of the entire team, and we are excited and honored to be the Project Team of the Year.”

The housing team created a master plan to transform a vacant 40-acre lot into a multi-use development site. Under leadership of its housing director, Keith Gregory, the housing department has gathered the support of Tribal Council and the community for the development.

In the span of two years, 2020 and 2021, the team received two LIHTC allocations totaling $2.9 million in credits and over $24 million in equity to fund the construction of 77 new units and began construction on the developments. The team prevailed during the most trying circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and their community will truly benefit.

On the horizon is an additional 50-unit apartment complex with fitness center, community room and rooftop terrace along with a new multi-use facility that will contain tribal offices, retail, and a farmers market.

Groundbreaking Team of the Year — Laguna Housing Development & Management Enterprise; Laguna Pueblo, NM

Laguna Housing Development & Management Enterprise (LHDME) demonstrated exemplary work to provide safe, affordable housing, amenities and services for Pueblo of Laguna families.

“To be recognized by Travois, our housing community peers and colleagues as part of a team for the Groundbreaking Team of the Year is a very humbling experience,” said Francisco Carr, board chairman at LHDME. “As the award states, this is a team effort as it takes a group of driven individuals to accomplish goals. The LHDME team working alongside members of Travois, Laguna Construction Company, Laguna Economic Advancement, Laguna’s Housing Priority Team, and Governor Martin Kowemy and the Laguna Tribal Council has made this endeavor possible. The need for housing on the Pueblo of Laguna is crucial for members of the community just as it is across Indian Country. The team is committed to fulfilling one of the Tribal Council’s priorities, which is housing. This can only be accomplished as we all work in unison, communicate with each other, and all do our part to ensure success.”

LHDME collaborated with many Pueblo departments in planning and used Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) financing to build 20 new townhomes, a community building and playground areas. The site layout is unique in that there are three distinct buildings and a centralized community space all opening towards the community amenities.

“The team will honestly say we are not in this line of work to be recognized individually or as a team but to ensure quality homes are provided within our Native communities for many generations to come,” Carr continued. “We work for the community. We are all taught that home is where the heart is, where your family is, where you are always welcomed and the family home is always there to provide health, food and most of all love and comfort. The work has only begun. The team has a vision and a goal to accomplish great things for the community and this is only the first step in that direction.”

The project will serve families with children and residents will have access to a community space, basketball court, and accessible playground areas for children under 5 and children 5-12 years old. All services will be held on-site in the newly built community space and will be offered at no charge to the tenants. Services to be provided to the families include health and nutrition classes, health screenings, computer trainings, tutoring, youth character building, and financial literacy.

LHDME continues to work for its tribal members as it plans for more affordable housing to meet community need.

Transformative Initiative of the Year — Turtle Mountain Housing Authority; Belcourt, ND

Turtle Mountain Housing Authority (TMHA) worked tirelessly to revitalize a crumbling neighborhood and bring safe, affordable housing in its replacement.

“The Turtle Mountain Housing Authority staff are honored and humbled by this award,” said TMHA staff. “The team worked hard and diligently on the project; not for the recognition, but for the need to get the job done for the betterment of its tribal community. This recognition for a job well done is truly appreciated.”

A housing development built in the 1960s presented hazardous conditions. TMHA mobilized to raise funding and take action. By June of 2020, TMHA raised $1.3 million in EPA clean-up grants to rid the site of contaminates and $2.9 million in ICDG CARES Act funding to safely demolish all 21 structures and begin rebuilding the site with new homes. By December 2021, the team had acquired, rehabilitated, and leased up eight single-family modular units. TMHA also received $718,750 in Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to build 52 units to replace the previously demolished structures.

The housing authority’s commitment to identifying the needs of their community, diligently planning how to meet those needs, and taking collaborative action has completely transformed the neighborhood.

2022 Superheroes:

Housing Professional of the Year: Nicole Sager, executive director of the Yurok Indian Housing Authority; Klamath, CA

Economic Development Professional of the Year: Dustin Goslin, VP of business & economic development at Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures; Onamia, MN

Pillar Professional of the Year: Paul Irwin, executive director of the North Fork Rancheria Indian Housing Authority; North Fork, CA

Haven Professional of the Year: Julia Culpus, tax credit resident services specialist at Warm Springs Housing Authority; Warm Springs, OR

Project Team of the Year: Pascua Yaqui Tribe Housing Department; Tucson, AZ

Groundbreaking Team of the Year: Laguna Housing Development & Management Enterprise; Laguna Pueblo, NM

Transformative Initiative of the Year: Turtle Mountain Housing Authority; Belcourt, ND

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