Introduction: Tribal Housing Renovation in Maine
In recent years, it became increasingly apparent to the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Tribal Housing Authority that much of the affordable rental housing on the Maliseet reservation would soon need major renovations.
The housing authority concluded that the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program would be the tribe’s best source of funding to renovate as many homes as possible. After successfully applying for tax credits, the housing authority realized it still needed additional funding to make the project feasible. "That is when our good friend John Moore at Bangor Savings Bank came up with the idea that we should apply to the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s Affordable Housing Program," says Aaron Greenlaw, executive director of the Maliseet Indians Tribal Housing Authority in Houlton, Maine.
With Mr. Moore’s assistance, the tribe submitted an AHP application and in 2012 the Maliseet Revitalization Project initiative was awarded a $250,000 grant. "The AHP grant along with Bangor Savings Bank’s interim construction financing really made the financing possible," Mr. Greenlaw adds.
In this AHP multimedia profile, tour Maliseet Riverside Village and visit the home of a resident.
In the photo: Resident Jonathan Shaw and his daughter at Maliseet Riverside Village.
Aaron Greenlaw is executive director of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Tribal Housing Authority.
Tribal leadership impressed on me a long time ago that it was important to retain our current housing stock.
Before Maliseet Riverside Village housing was built in 1992 with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians didn’t have tribal housing. Tribal leadership built this housing because it wanted our native people to have housing options other than the apartment markets of local towns.
For the Maliseet Riverside Village initiative, we are renovating 28 of the 50 single family units. Our primary source of funding is Low Income Housing Tax Credits. These rental units provide housing for about 150 people. Our residents work in the local towns, mostly in agricultural jobs and shops.
When we realized we needed to do a major upgrade on the units, we looked at our funding options. Our current funding doesn’t allow us to do this kind of comprehensive renovation. It soon became apparent that the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program represented our best opportunity to renovate this housing.
At the same time, we realized we needed additional funding to make the project possible. That’s when our good friend John Moore at Bangor Savings Bank came up with the idea to apply to the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s Affordable Housing Program. With his assistance we submitted an application and were very fortunate to be awarded funding, which, along with Bangor Savings Bank’s interim construction financing, really made the financing possible.
In the past, the housing authority had applied for other funding to do the renovation, but the funds available just weren’t large enough to support the scale of renovation we needed here. The homes required a major renovation — new roofs, windows, doors, and heating systems. The interiors were also showing signs of wear and had to be replaced.
One of the huge challenges of the renovation project is that all of the units are occupied. We have to move families out and provide other housing for them while their units are being renovated. After the renovation we help them move back into their new homes.
Renovations have been completed on three homes (as of November 2014) and those families have already moved back in. They absolutely love the work that has been completed. One of the things I have heard over and over again is that the homes feel more like ownership housing than rental housing. The residents have been extremely excited about moving back in.
I often see tenants peeking through the windows while their homes are being renovated. Many ask me to take them inside so they can see what has been done. We are currently working on six additional, which we hope to have completed by February 2015. The entire project is scheduled to be completed by early summer 2015.
The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians was recognized by the federal government in 1980. The tribe started organizing in the 1970s, putting together a tribal government and applying for federal recognition. The tribal government consists of a six member tribal council and a tribal chief. The Maliseet Indians have approximately 1,400 members. They reside across the U.S. and Canada, but the majority live right here in the Houlton area of Maine.
We have 82 rental units and about 260 people living on the reservation now. In 2000 I was involved with construction of an 18-unit, single-family-home rental project and day care facility for tribal members. We also built an apartment building with eight three-bedroom units and another with six two-bedroom units. These projects were built with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 515 program.
There continues to be a large demand for housing here. We have about 45 to 50 families on our waiting list. The housing authority is always looking for funding to build new homes because many of our members would love to come back to tribal lands to live with native people.
Rent in Houlton is extremely high and the condition of the apartments is not that great. Tribal leadership wants to provide safe, clean housing for our members. In the future, the housing authority and the tribe would like to look at building more ownership housing. Our current funding levels don’t allow us to build more housing unless there is a rental subsidy attached to it. The tribal housing authority provides low-income housing and charges renters only 30 percent of adjusted income for rent, which does not cover the cost of the housing.
Our tribal members tell us they want to move toward homeownership — toward the American dream of owning their own home. The tribe plays a vital role in providing family housing, elder housing, and health care services for tribal members. It has created a place for out tribal members to come and be together as a cohesive community. Our tribal members really look to the elders for guidance.
Growing Up in the Community
I grew up about 15 miles south of here in Oakfield. I had a lot of interaction with the tribe while I was growing up. I really enjoyed being part of the native community. After I graduated from college, I thought about coming back here to work for the tribe. I didn’t know how I would do that or what I would do.
I looked at the housing authority because I knew there was a vacancy in the director’s position. I had an interview with the board of commissioners and in 1998 — just three weeks out of college — I was hired as executive director.
I didn’t know at the time what I was getting into but I am extremely happy to have come here to work for the housing authority and the tribe. I really enjoy helping our native people. I love to see our tribe advance.
When I was growing up, the tribe had no housing. There wasn’t a lot of health care support for tribal members. Today we have housing, a beautiful new health facility, and social and transportation services on tribal land. It’s extremely satisfying to be part of that growth and to see where the tribe is going. In addition to housing, the tribe in recent years has completed several other community projects, including a new tribal health facility built with financing from HUD, USDA, and Bangor Savings Bank; and a beautiful new football field built with HUD funding. The local high school uses the field for its football season.
In providing housing for our tribal members the housing authority needs partners. The Four Directions Development Corporation, where I serve as a board member, is one of them. Four Directions provides financing to help tribal members purchase homes. If a tribal member is interested in homeownership, I always refer them to Four Directions. I see the great work they do in providing members with financing to help them purchase or renovate their homes. They have created a market for housing on tribal lands that didn’t exist in the past. In the past, local financial institutions really didn’t have a presence on native lands. Because of the unique status of tribal trust lands, banks were unable to issue mortgages for tribal property. Four Directions provides a solution for this.
Bangor Savings Bank has been a great partner for us, providing interim financing to make a lot of these projects possible. John Moore has helped us with his expertise and strategies to create financing for native people. He has helped not only the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians but all four tribes in Maine. He has been an excellent partner.