The Cheyenne River Housing Authority (CRHA) is a tribally designated housing entity (TDHE) created by an ordinance enacted by the Tribal Council of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Its mission is to provide affordable, safe, and sanitary housing throughout its service area, which encompasses the boundaries of the Cheyenne River Reservation, based in north-central South Dakota.
CRHA has a long history of providing homeownership opportunities, having started down the path of mortgage lending with the inception of the NAHASDA. Since then, its homeownership services have evolved and diversified to meet the needs of its families. CRHA recognizes that families come to homeownership through different paths, including contract for deed, new construction, local bank financing, and mortgage loan products. It has gained experience in loan packaging for USDA’s 502 loan, the HUD-guaranteed 184, the VA’s NADL, as well as conventional bank loans with local lenders.
In 2016, with the support of the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition and the South Dakota Housing Development Authority, the CRHA completed a comprehensive Housing Needs Study to inform and support its homeownership efforts. According to Executive Director Sharon Vogel, “In order for us to understand the interest and preferences of tribal members interested in homeownership, we needed to gather information and data.” The Study was conducted by an external consulting company with extensive experience in Indian Country.
The importance and value of the CRHA Housing Needs Study were immediately recognized when developing their new subdivision, Badger Park:
- Interest in homeownership
- Awareness of different loan products
- Understanding of the mortgage loan process and affordability
- Need for homeownership education
- Potential homeowners for the Badger Park subdivision
- Potential sites for future subdivisions (where tribal members wanted to live)
- Desired neighborhood amenities
The CRHA matched its funds with resources earmarked by the South Dakota Housing Development Authority for the assessment.
Overall, the completed study provided valuable information for both short-term planning in designing homebuyer readiness services to prospective homeowners, and long-term planning in identifying potential sites for future subdivisions.
The CRHA Housing Needs Study succeeded for a number reasons. The key ingredients for success include:
- Use a professional contractor who understands your community and, preferably, has experience working in Indian Country.
- Secure internal buy-in from the staff (all departments) that the Housing Needs Study is an integral part of the development and planning process.
- Design the survey to collect the kind of information needed by the community, and engage the staff in the development of the survey instrument.
- Think outside of the box about what information to gather, like questions around affordability (what is affordable, compared to an actual mortgage).
- Coordinate the survey with different employers in the community, who could provide access to their employees (such as the Tribe, the schools, and larger businesses).
- Lead with a vision about the value and importance of the Housing Needs Study and educate staff, tribal leaders, and the community.
The CRHA points to a number of beneficial impacts of their Housing Needs Study:
- Enabled the organization to design and deliver homebuyer readiness classes designed for an identified list of potential homebuyers.
- Informed modifications to the homebuyer readiness curriculum, now an expanded to a 12-week course taught by financial education experts.
- Reaffirmed that Badger Park is a desired location for families and that prior planning is on target.
- Validated the need to find subsidies for hard-working families to ensure these families could achieve homeownership and manage a mortgage.
- Highlighted the need for targeted outreach for veterans, because many were not aware of the VA loan product available to them.
- Reaffirmed the Housing Authority’s capacity to execute the project using an integrated, comprehensive housing development approach.
The CRHA learned many lessons through the process:
- Be flexible in conducting the study and administering the survey – if one outreach strategy isn’t producing results, it’s important to have the flexibility to modify the approach.
- Consider target groups for special outreach efforts, such as Housing Authority tenants, elders, veterans, and employees.
- Identify a goal for the number of completed surveys.
- Use the Needs Study as a living tool that is reviewed and updated regularly.
A number of challenges cropped up in conducting the CRHA Housing Needs Study, as well as in providing homeownership opportunities for tribal members:
- The study creates expectations for services and support, so it is important to have the capacity to manage these expectations.
- There may be a disconnect between what families want and what they can afford after looking at affordable design and construction.
- It is important to keep families motivated and engaged in the homebuying process – there are many steps in the process and it’s easy to give up.
On the horizon
In the future, the CRHA plans to use the information it has collected to design and develop more affordable homeownership opportunities for tribal members. The study and its planning process are now an ongoing process, rather than a “one-time deal.”
In the near future, the CRHA plans to build on the Housing Needs Assessment to conduct a targeted needs assessment focused on veterans. The CRHA also plans to continue developing partnership opportunities for subsidy funding to ensure maximum affordability.