Historically, housing and other development initiatives on the reservation have been undertaken by outside agencies, with a lack of community investment, and funded with limited resources, which often make projects difficult to sustain. From the outset, TVCDC knew its work needed to be done differently.
For this reason, the organization makes community engagement priority one, from design to project implementation.
“The community has had a role in all aspects of the design, from the way the neighborhoods are constructed all the way down to the design of the homes—a kind of community engagement that has never been done here before.” -Nick Tilsen
The organization also finds creative ways to diversify the financial resources and networks necessary to complete the community's projects. One way they have successfully broadened these resources is by developing on land that makes it easier to finance homeownership.
Homeownership is an identified priority for the community due to historic barriers to ownership and the long-term equity that homes can generate. Almost all the existing housing built on Pine Ridge has been funded in ways that restrict it to rental use. With a more diverse funding pool, TVCDC will be able to provide a broader range of housing options to the community.
“We have freed ourselves to plan and develop in new ways by diversifying our resources. The reality is that there is never going to be enough funds available from just one agency or entity to tackle a project like this one. It has only been possible by weaving together a combination of resources.” -Nick Tilsen
According to data from the community’s strategic visioning document, "Oyate Omniciye Oglala Lakota Plan," 51 percent of the existing workforce does not live on the reservation. Not one house is for sale or rent to allow workers to move onto the reservation. Tilsen explains that housing naturally became one of the community's top priorities due to the significant relationship between a healthy housing stock and a thriving workforce.
Phase One of the Regenerative Community is a three-year process and focuses heavily on housing development. Infrastructure will be built in the first year (roads, water, and sewer). Housing and other structures will be built in the years following.
"We need to make sure our earners, the people who will rebuild our economy, can live here. Otherwise, because we are so rural, our people are commuting 50-120 miles each day, just working so they can put enough gas in their car to get to work the next day. They get stuck in this cycle of perpetual poverty, all because they can't find a place to live that's close to work." -Nick Tilsen
Twenty-one single-family homes will be built on the site. Twelve will be built through the Self-Help Program in which families provide about 50-60 percent of the labor needed to complete the project, referred to as “sweat equity.” Three homes will be built through TVCDC’s workforce development program. The remaining seven will be built as market-rate properties.
Phase One will also expand existing projects, including the Workforce Development Training Center and the Food Sovereignty Initiative. The permanent creation of a Sustainable Agriculture Education Center will include a small demonstration farm for the community to learn about healthy eating and growing food.
In addition to homeownership development, TVCDC will construct an apartment complex/bunkhouse for TVCDC staff, interns, and volunteers. There is currently no housing on-site for the organization’s staff and most must commute from across the reservation or from 1.25 hours away in Rapid City.
“Most of our staff don’t have housing close to our office and aren’t quite in a place to afford home ownership yet. And, we turn down internships and volunteers on a weekly basis because we don’t have a place to house them. The apartment/bunkhouse complex is therefore a key priority as it will support and build the capacity of the organization and the work happening here.” -Nick Tilsen