Two years later: four takeaways from an experienced tribal developer

Two years ago, we were in the planning phases of two new Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) projects with the Sokaogon Chippewa Housing Authority (SCHA) of Crandon, WI. (Read Director Ashley Bland’s 2014 summary of her site visit.)

Led by Executive Director Jeff Ackley, SCHA had just received word that both of its projects were awarded tax credits from WHEDA. Since then, Jeff and SCHA (and Travois!) have been hard at work closing with equity investors, creating the final architectural designs and specifications, putting the projects out to bid, building and inspecting the units and moving families in!

Sokaogon Chippewa #2 is building 20 new homes, and Sokaogon Supportive Residences is converting a vacant motel into 24 studio-style efficiency apartments that will provide social supportive services to the residents, including veterans. All of these units are designed to be handicapped-accessible. Both will finish construction this year.

In these two years, we’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Jeff Ackley, and he was kind enough to share his experiences and what he’s learned during presentations with us at our 16th Annual Indian Country Affordable Housing & Economic Development Conference in April in Nashville and at the 2016 AMERIND/NAIHC National Convention & Trade Fair last month in Hawaii.

Here are four key takeaways Jeff provided during those presentations:

1. Thinking ahead will save you money down the line.

Jeff talked about the need for homes to adapt as families grow. He said he’s seen families who have been forced to create makeshift bedrooms as they’ve had more children.


With Sokaogon Chippewa #2 (home pictured above), Jeff explained that SCHA planned ahead for this. The basements, left unfinished for now, have been designed for future growth. The plumbing for a future bathroom is stubbed-in, making it much more affordable to install fixtures. Each basement has been planned to include two future bedrooms, which SCHA will build later as needed. Egress windows for each bedroom were included in the project, so the building code requirements have been met, and are built right in.

This preplanning means that SCHA will not need to cut the concrete foundation walls or slab to expand the living space, saving time and cost in the future.

2. Focus on creating a tight building envelope.

A tight building envelope helps to prevent cold air infiltration and heat loss, making the most of the high-efficiency systems for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).

Rather than spending money on elaborate geothermal energy systems, Jeff recommended focusing on good insulation details and Energy-Star-rated doors and windows, which help to minimize heat exchange at the building openings, and energy-efficient furnaces and appliances. These steps will save money for tenants on utility bills, will ensure good indoor air quality and will keep the housing authority maintenance staff happy.

3. Advocate with your state housing agency.

Not all states provide a tribal tax credit set aside, often making it much more difficult for rural tribal projects to compete in the LIHTC application process. Jeff talked about the importance of making sure tribal projects have an equal opportunity for tax credits.

He recommends trying to get on advisory boards to ensure tribal communities are represented. “As hard as it may be, try to get representation,” he said.

The best way to make change is to advocate for your community and ensure that your state is made aware of your tribe’s housing needs.

4. There will be obstacles to overcome.

There were a number of setbacks to both of the projects SCHA applied for. Ultimately it took two years to be awarded credits, an additional year after the first investor fell through and a second investor was established, and a lot of value engineering to make the budget work.

While tax credit projects take years of hard work, “it’s worth it in the end,” Jeff said.

The projects finally got to construction, which is inherently a bumpy process, and units are now being completed. The new homes were worth the wait, and provide a lot of needed housing to the Sokaogon Chippewa Tribe.

In addition, strong team members are needed to assist a housing authority through the LIHTC process. Jeff talked about getting past the challenges of closing with an equity investor and thanked Jeff Bowman, president and CEO at Bay Bank, for financing help. Travois Design & Construction Services provided architectural design services and monthly inspections that are required to keep investor funds flowing to the projects.

Jeff talked briefly about SCHA’s project team and said “Travois has been excellent to work with on our projects.”

Thank you, Jeff, for tackling these challenges, seeing the projects through and sharing your experiences! We look forward to seeing what you and SCHA accomplish next!