Travois honors industry “superheroes” at annual conference

Travois recognized four outstanding industry professionals and an American Indian tribal entity at a Superhero Awards ceremony on April 11. The consulting firm, continuing 24 years in business and directing more than $1.4 billion of investment in American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities, held the ceremony at its 19th Annual Indian Country Affordable Housing & Economic Development Conference in Miami, Florida.

“Since 2015 we’ve honored industry professionals doing amazing work in their communities,” said Elizabeth Glynn, Travois chief executive officer. “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. Our annual awards ceremony celebrates the important work of Indian Country’s housing and economic development professionals and provides inspiration to all in attendance.”

Peers submitted nominations for five award categories. The 2019 award winners are:

Housing Professional of the Year: Sara Spence, executive director of the Karuk Tribe Housing Authority (KTHA); Happy Camp, CA

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

“I am deeply honored to be named the 2019 Housing Professional of the Year,” Spence said. “To have my work recognized by colleagues and peers is incredibly flattering. Helping tribal communities in the housing arena is an extremely gratifying career. We are able to see firsthand the difference our work makes in the lives of the families we serve.”

In 2017, Spence stepped into the role of executive director at the urging of many co-workers and colleagues. Since that time, she’s been directing, leading and continuing to facilitate the tribe’s vision for future housing.

With a dedicated housing team by her side, she worked diligently making sure every detail was considered on the mountains of paperwork for Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs), New Markets Tax Credits (NMTCs), the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) and Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG). Spence managed applications, requests for proposals, requests for qualifications, and design and construction and kept everything running on time and on budget.

Spence continued: “At the core of everything we do, we strive to provide an essential need; a safe, sanitary, affordable home. It is that home that will allow them to grow and succeed not only for themselves but also for their families and their communities.”

“I must first thank my husband and family for supporting me throughout my career; they have given me a foundation that has allowed me to focus on my work and successfully serve the Karuk Tribe and Karuk Tribe Housing Authority for more than 20 years. I simply would not be where I am today without them.

“I must also thank the entire staff of the Karuk Tribe Housing Authority, the Karuk Tribal Council, and the Housing Board of Commissioners for their dedication, support and hard work. I am grateful to be part of such an amazing team; it is incredible what can be accomplished when everyone works together!”

“We are happy to have established a longtime partnership with Travois; their entire team has been amazing to work with, namely Lauren Dahl and Crystal Banks-Mann, who have been with us throughout our first LIHTC project, Karuk Homes #1, from start to finish. Their support has been integral to our success,” Spence said.


Economic Development Professional of the Year – Pat Mercier, CFO of the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians; Corning, CA

Pat Mercier sparks positive change in her community; she currently leads a team of three that has lofty goals. The economic development team is working to build a strong community through infrastructure, health care, education, business and other community projects. The list is long but attainable.

Plans are in motion to expand an existing clinic, develop a complex, build a community center, administration building, and wellness center, and provide elder and member housing.

“We are grateful for the recognition of our work in rebuilding the community of the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians,” Mercier said. “We look forward to an exciting future from our new Community Center!”


Pillar Professional — Kristen Wamego, general manager of tribal operations for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation (PBPN), Mayetta, KS

Kristen Wamego knows how to manage a project, stretch a dollar, and battle the elements to deliver a quality product on time.

In the past year, Wamego has completed a Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) development that brought 27-single family homes to her community. This complicated process involved everything from reviewing contractor bids to performing punch list walk-throughs for completion. Her open communication skills with all parties involved ensured smooth operations through both the closing and construction process.

“I would like to thank Travois for the recognition,” Kristen Wamego said. “While I am appreciative and humbled to receive this award, I do not work alone and must recognize the PBPN team and their hard work on making our third Low Income Housing Tax Credit project a success.”

In addition, she was able to submit a LIHTC application for a rehabilitation development for community elders. More housing opportunities for Prairie Band tribal members are the direct result of her remarkable work.

Wamego continued: “Community development is vital to our nation, and providing quality, affordable homes has been instrumental in that process. It has been a rewarding experience, and I am grateful to the hard work and assistance that Travois has provided. I look forward to working with Travois in continuing to develop the PBPN community.”


Haven Professional of the Year — Elfina Kalemsa, resident services program manager for Hopi Tribal Housing Authority; Polacca, AZ

Elfina Kalemsa helps ensure Indian Country housing remains strong for the future. Kalemsa’s work ethic and dedication to helping families in her community is inspiring. She listens to the needs of both tenants and co-workers, and she works tirelessly to ensure the wheels stay in motion, the units get rented up, and the needs of her community are served. She has balanced 80 units — low rent and tax credit — all while staying active in her community and raising a family.

She is a member of the Hopi Tribe, Roadrunner Clan from the Village of Sichomovi in Arizona, and she has worked in affordable housing since 2009.

“Decent, affordable housing is a need of all in Indian Country,” Kalemsa said. “I am blessed to be able to help our own tribal members live in that kind of ‘haven’ on our reservation!”


Project Team of the Year — Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation

Tolowa Dee-ni Nation represents the best in Indian Country development. The team has used new ideas and courageous action to ensure its developments success.

The team had a long and thoughtful planning process to bring quality, affordable housing to their community where wait lists are long and housing supply is extremely limited. While these characteristics are not uncommon in Indian Country, the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation’s efforts were complicated by the extremely high costs of construction in their area, the very most northwestern corner of California.

“We would not be here but for all of the hard work, talent and expertise of everyone at Travois,” said Don Daines, housing director of Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation. “Our success is a tribal success involving contributions of effort from everyone.”

The Tolowa Dee-ni Nation, including the tribal council, planning department, housing department, construction team and TERO office, alongside their investor partner, worked diligently from the first discussions to develop a sustainable project that celebrates and preserves the culture of the nation and creates a homeownership opportunity for tribal members that would not otherwise be possible without the work of this amazing team.

The team’s perseverance, determination, and true representation of what it means to work as a team will provide the community a development with ocean views from every home once complete. The process to develop and build on this property so close to the coast came with its own set of unique and highly complex challenges. The nation worked through these challenges diligently to ensure that the end goal of quality housing could become a reality for their community.

Daines added: “We know for whom we are doing everything and that serves as a powerful motivation for everyone.”

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