Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate receives housing grant

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Sen. John Thune (R. S.D.) announced that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded a grant of $2.9 million to the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe. The funds will be used for the tribe’s low income housing assistance program.

“Adequate housing is a pillar of financial stability for families and communities alike,” Thune said. “This grant will improve the tribe’s housing and economic situation.”

The grant comes from the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Indian Community Development Block Grant program.

The grant is the primary funding system for the Indian Housing Authority. The statute itself is entitled The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Grant which is also known as the Indian Housing Block Grant.

The Sisseton–Wahpeton Oyate are two combined bands and two sub-divisions of the Isanti or Santee Dakota people located on the Lake Traverse Reservation in South and North Dakota.

The reservation is located in sections of five counties in northeast South Dakota and sections of two counties in southeast North Dakota. About one-third claim to be full-blood Native American. Its largest community is the city of Sisseton, S.D.

As described in the Statement of Needs section of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Housing Authority Housing Plan, “there is a shortage of decent and affordable homes on the Lake Traverse Reservation. Many tribal families live in substandard homes that are in many cases overcrowded due to the shortage.”

The Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate claim that even though 600 homes have been developed since 1967, there is still a shortage of homes to adequately meet the housing needs of the more than 2,000 members of the tribe.

The tribe asserts that the lack of adequate income by the head of household to provide a decent and affordable home for his or her family is identified as the major reason that substandard and overcrowded living conditions exist on the reservation.

The receipt of the grant will help in numerous areas that are relevant to the tribe which includes the major repairs to 17 homes; repair and replacement of up to 100 street lights; basketball court repairs to seven districts as needed in the Crime Prevention and Safety Program and the sponsorship of Spring and Fall “Clean-up Days” to all of the affordable housing areas throughout the reservation. There will also be monies allocated to modernization and development.

David Redthunder is the compliance officer for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribal Employment Rights Office or TERO. He was once a housing director for the tribe. He is also brother to Tribal Chairman Michael Selvage Sr.

Redthunder has seen first-hand the challenges faced by his tribal people and speaks gratefully about the monies granted to his tribe by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “I think the tribe as a whole is very happy to receive these funds for new construction. The tribe also has housing programs that provide assistance that help to provide down payments for new houses.”

Redthunder continued, “There are a lot of young families. When I was on housing, there was a younger population moving up into the demographic that would need housing. They are pretty much here now.”

Redthunder described that his people were not a group that were unemployed and simply waiting for a hand-out but able-bodied, employed and ready to take on responsibility. He stressed the importance of programs to assist younger families.

“We’ve got a lot of young people that are working in the community and haven’t yet established credit. As beginning wage earners, they don’t yet make enough to obtain a mortgage. This money will help with those programs.”

The tribe is the largest provider of employment which provides about 2,000 jobs to the community. Ultimately, the very money that is helping to build and repair these houses will also help provide income to those individuals wanting to own a home.

The timing of the grant is perfect for an additional reason according to Redthunder, “Recently a storm passed through the Wau Bay area of the reservation, with winds at 80 to 90 miles per hour. Many roofs were damaged and many communities felt the effects. The tribe has pitched in to help.”

The grant itself outlines the way the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe will allocate the funds to help its housing program. It will designate $816,000 to modernization, $1,353,913 to operating costs, $100,000 to housing services, $140,000 to crime prevention and safety, $20,000 to model activity and $590,000 to planning and administration.