Shovels lifting dirt in a groundbreaking ceremony in south Carson City on Tuesday represented the largest new housing project for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California in roughly 30 years.
“A housing subdivision of this size hasn’t been done since the early ’90s,” Martin Montgomery, executive director of the Washoe Housing Authority, told the Appeal.
Montgomery was one of several tribal and state officials gathered for a groundbreaking held in a large tent due to spring rain. The $14 million project includes 20 new homes and a new tribal building on about 12 acres near the corner of Snyder Avenue and Ponderosa Drive, just south of Interstate 580 in the Stewart Community. A result of leveraging low-income housing tax credits and receiving a $5.5 million Home Means Nevada grant, the first phase of new houses will be for low-income tribal families.
“This is really a historic moment for the tribe, being able to do this, having a project of this size for housing,” Washoe Tribal Chair Serrell Smokey told the audience.
Smokey said the project shows the tribe’s capacity to do even more in the future. He emphasized the project is for the entire tribe, not just the Stewart Community.
“This is going to be huge and beneficial for everybody,” he said.
According to Montgomery, the project was first conceptualized in the 1970s. But it took the right team and multiple funding sources to move concept to reality. Red Stone Equity Partners, a national firm specializing in affordable housing and renewable energy projects, leveraged low-income housing tax credits to secure investment and provide $7.6 million for the project. The main investor is American Express, according to Kevin Welsh, director of acquisitions for Red Stone.
“Groundbreakings are really special for me in our industry,” Welsh told the audience. “It’s an inflection point in the development process. It’s where we as an investor commit to being a partner, putting our dollars to work. It’s where words become ideas become actions. It’s when plans and drawings become streets and structures.”
Steve Aichroth, administrator of the Nevada Housing Division, described how a Home Means Nevada grant also boosted the tribal project.
“Not only was Washoe Housing Authority the recipient of Home Means Nevada funds in the amount of $5.5 million, you were the only tribal entity that actually applied,” he said.
Home Means Nevada was spearheaded by former Gov. Steve Sisolak. It used $500 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for affordable housing projects in the state.
Aichroth said the Nevada Housing Division, which administered the funding, is “basically your state housing finance agency” that works with federal tax credits.
“We look forward to more engagement from the tribal communities as we go forward,” he said.
Christine Hess of the Nevada Housing Coalition, a nonprofit that assisted the tribe in the project, said the organization would like to work with more tribal communities as well.
“We would like to see more tribal projects getting done,” she said. “We know you have housing needs. We actually don’t know your housing needs, but we are here to learn and support your housing needs.”
The housing needs of tribal members can be difficult to navigate in the world of finance, Montgomery told the Appeal. For example, working with banks when land is in a tribal trust can be a challenge.
“A lot of tribal members really want the ability to own their homes, like most people, but financing and some of those other things are not always geared toward tribal people,” he said.
The new project will move tribal members toward home ownership. Tenants will be able to lease the land and own the houses themselves after 15 years. Keri Capps, WHA client services manager, said this will enable tribal members to move back to tribal land.
“There are not enough homes on the four communities for all of our tribal members,” she said. “They’ve all had to live off-reservation and have not been able to be on-reservation where their family lives.”
Montgomery hopes the project extends to additional phases in the Stewart Community over the next 10 years. He envisions a total buildout of 50 homes. However, he said future phases might include homes for members with higher income levels.
“A lot of the funding sources are directed toward low-income housing, which is great, but there is also sort of this missed part of the population for middle- and higher-income families,” he said.
Like Capps, Montgomery noted the importance of the tribal community for all members. He believes the project will create housing opportunities for multiple generations.
“Everybody wants stability,” he said. “Everybody wants to be able to call a place their own at the end of the day.”
Darienne Tenorio, chair of the Stewart Community Council, told the audience the community is excited to add 20 families. The new community building, she said, will be dedicated to tribal youth, so they have their own space.
“This is completely, totally awesome, that we are providing 20 new homes to our membership,” she said. “That hasn’t happened — as it was said before — in years. Years.”
Rodney Huschka, vice president of new construction for Pavilion — the project’s general contractor — said the company is working with Travois Design. The architectural firm is based in Kansas City and serves “American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities,” according to the company website.
Huschka said developers have about a year and a half to complete construction of the new homes to secure the tax credits. He noted Pavilion has worked with other tribes in the western U.S.
“Probably close to 70 percent of our build is affordable housing,” he said. “We are very committed to that. And we’ve always been committed to tribal projects.”
Huschka said the new homes will be energy efficient and include solar power systems. He called the project “a looking-to-the-future kind of project.”