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The Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority has distinguished itself as one of the six winners in the 2023 Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge, a competitive national initiative that recognizes innovative housing solutions. 

Organized by the Wells Fargo Foundation and Enterprise Community Partners, the competition acknowledged the Tlingit-Haida's “Success Starts With Me Home Ownership Program” (SSWM), a collaboration with Haa Yakaawu Financial Corporation, a Native community development financial institution (CDFI) that serves the region. 

The Breakthrough Challenge awards acknowledge groundbreaking initiatives addressing housing challenges across the United States, according to a statement. The Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority was the sole Native American tribe to receive this recognition, including a $2 million grant. 

The Success Starts With Me program operates with the objective of bridging the gap between traditional mortgage loans and the specific financial needs in rural Alaska. Offering individualized down payments, payback schedules, and educational courses, the program stands out for its community-centric approach. The $2 million grant is anticipated to support over 100 families in the Juneau region.

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While the homes will mostly be on tribal lands, they’re not subject to the same Bureau of Indian Affairs approvals that have been troublesome for would-be Native American homeowners in the lower 48, according to Jacqueline Pata, president and CEO of the Tlingit Regional Housing Authority. Even so, there are still many challenges for Alaska Natives seeking a home. 

"We still face numerous challenges in remote villages, including access,” Pata said. “None of these villages are connected by roadways, so you either have to fly or boat in. Transportation, construction materials, and skilled laborers pose significant challenges. Addressing these challenges is a key focus of our program."

Instead of relying on large construction companies for mass housing projects, the Tlingit-Haida housing authority prioritizes a more community-oriented strategy, Pata said. The program utilizes local labor, and invests in apprenticeship programs to develop skilled workers.

The approach not only builds a skilled workforce, but also encourages community involvement and ownership. Participants in the program can contribute "sweat equity" to reduce the overall cost of their homes. This means that those with the necessary skills can actively participate in tasks like flooring, painting, or construction cleanup without incurring additional charges. 

As a result, the program aims to make housing more affordable by allowing community members to invest their own efforts into the construction process, thereby reducing the overall purchase price of their homes, Pata said. 

The Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge attracted over 400 applications nationwide, with Tlingit-Haida being one of the six winners selected. The competition has positioned Tlingit-Haida as a participant in a multi-year peer learning network, fostering the exchange of ideas and innovations within the housing sector. 

Pata expressed her gratitude for the challenge and the opportunity to participate and learn in the grant program. 

“It was truly fascinating,” she said. “They brought us back to DC, where we had to compete against other national innovations. Hearing the breadth and strength of all these creative ideas was amazing, and being considered a part of them was truly great for Indian Country.” 

The five other winners of the 2023 Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge are: 

  • Build UP: Build UP Birmingham and Beyond - Birmingham, Alabama
  • Hydronic Shell Technologies: Thinking Outside the Box for More Sustainable and Healthy Affordable Housing - Syracuse, New York
  • Module: Last Mile Network - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Hope Enterprise Corporation: Securing Homeownership through Expiring LIHTC Developments - Mississippi Delta
  • Grounded Solutions Network: The Homes for the Future Fund - Atlanta, Georgia, and communities of color in the South