The Wichita Housing Authority, led by Executive Director Ben Hatfield, recently received an Apex Award from the Oklahoma Housing Finance Authority for its 25-unit single family home project located in the Iscani Subdivision of Anadarko, Okla.
The Apex Award honors affordable housing excellence, and the Wichita Housing Authority was recognized in the rental housing division.
“Wichita Housing Authority is very appreciative,” Hatfield said. “The award affirms the excellence our organization seeks to maintain in addressing affordable housing needs to our clients and low-income families in the Anadarko and Caddo County. The award has made us both proud of our achievements and humble. We include the 25 families we placed, our development partners and consultants in the recognition. We thank them and OHFA for sharing our vision for Iscani Community Phase I.”
The Phase I project was Wichita Housing Authority’s first experience with the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, which is used around the country to encourage private investment in affordable housing. The project was completed last year. The homes are contemporary ranches and average 1,350 square feet, have two car garages and two full bathrooms.
To build its award-winning project, the housing authority researched the LIHTC program, assessed its internal capabilities and put together a team, made up of the consultant, Travois, Inc.; a market feasibility firm; attorneys; accountants and the surveyor.
“We were extremely pleased to work with the dedicated staff of the Wichita Housing Authority,” said Lorna Fogg, president of Travois. “It was a really well planned, forward-thinking development that took into account multiple phases with multiple amenities. It really is a community.”
To succeed, the housing authority had to establish a relationship with OHFA, which had little experience with a Native American housing entity, Hatfield said.
“We overcame this challenge by being very thorough in the application process and providing all essential information required,” Hatfield said. “Although we were not allocated in our initial submission, we were very consistent in the following round of allocation, and the application was successful. To date, our experience with [OHFA] has been very compatible with a shared mission of addressing needs of low income residents under our joint jurisdictions.”
In addition to 25 homes, the housing authority was able to work in a number of amenities for the project, including a 5,000-square-foot Community Center that houses a classroom/conference room, computer lab, library and office space for the housing authority. The center also contains a high school regulation gymnasium that is equipped to host banquets, meetings, dances and various youth activities.
“These experiences made the undertaking of a second LIHTC project (Wichita Housing Limited Partnership #2) less difficult and more pleasurable,” Hatfield said. “WHLP#2 was allocated credits on its initial submission and has provided 40 duplex townhouse apartment rental units.”
The second LIHTC project is located in the same subdivision and includes a swimming pool, which was not previously available in Anadarko. The homes average 1,400 square feet, have two-car garages, sodded yards, Energy Star appliances, Low-E window glass, and washer and dryer rooms with hook-ups.
“Our residents have been thrilled with the Iscani Community structures and amenities,” Hatfield said. “They are excited and involved in the continued development of their new community. In most circumstances, it is their first experience living in a newly built dwelling.”
Through these two housing developments, the Wichita Housing Authority has been able to lower its waiting list to 30 to 35 applicants. Yet, it has future goals.
“We were recently awarded an Indian Housing Block Grant competitive award of $2 million,” Hatfield said. “These unexpected funds came from [the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] as stimulus to the economy. We plan to pay off three mortgages of HUD Section 184 loan guarantees, construct 10 three-bedroom homes, and four two-bedroom homes.
“We also plan to seek another LIHTC project to construct a senior living center of 40 apartment suites with applicable congregate areas, laundry and other amenities for the elderly. We will need the improvement of a challenged investment market before moving on this endeavor.”
Hatfield recommends the LIHTC program to other tribal housing authorities who are considering using it, especially smaller-sized housing authorities.
“If we can do it, so can you,” he said. “All it takes is work and commitment from the housing authority and some minimal funding upfront.”
Wichita Housing Authority was assisted with the LIHTC program by Travois, Inc., a housing and economic development consulting company that works exclusively in Indian Country and provides guidance on the LIHTC program and the New Markets Tax Credit program. In 14 years, Travois has worked with 50 tribal organizations on more than 130 LIHTC housing projects. For more information about Travois, visit www.travois.com.