Ensuring Seneca-Cayuga Nation members have access to affordable housing is not just a goal for our current Business Committee. It’s a plan in motion. Largely thanks to Housing Administrator Michelle Morris, Executive Director Dennis Sisco, and Second Councilperson Amy Nuckolls, who is also the chairperson for the Housing Committee.
Ms. Morris is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the department. Director Sisco has been instrumental in organizing all the paperwork for the grants needed for future and current housing projects. And Councilperson Nuckolls, who was elected a little over a year ago, spends much of her time laying the groundwork for these ventures.
At the top of their list is a tiny homes project. “We did receive a grant for eight tiny homes,” Ms. Nuckolls explained during a recent interview. “We’re also bringing in water and sewer lines, so that [project] will be running parallel to the tiny homes construction.”
Construction for the tiny homes is being funded by an ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) grant awarded to the Tribe last year. Because it’s a COVID-related grant, the tiny homes must be used for COVID-related issues, such as quarantining, overcrowding, etc. Once the pandemic is officially over, the department plans to reallocate the homes for various other purposes.
Timelines are somewhat tentative due to the environmental review process, which is expected to be completed by mid-April. The goal of the review is to minimize any ecological disruption. If everything goes as planned, the housing department hopes to break ground on both projects by May 1st.
In addition to the tiny homes, there are also multiple duplex projects in the works. “We purchased some duplexes,” said Ms. Nuckolls. While purchased by the Tribe, these duplexes are currently being rented by non-members. Why? Tribal leaders agreed to honor the existing leases for two reasons: to avoid prematurely displacing tenants, and to collect revenue which the SCN uses to further housing goals. These leases end during the second half of 2022, at which point the Housing Department will revisit and make the appropriate decision.
“We also applied for a grant to build additional duplexes. If we receive the grant, we’re planning on constructing two bedroom two bath duplexes and starting an elder community,” said Ms. Nuckolls.
Elder care is an important issue, especially for the councilperson. “That’s my most important mission… We have a lot of elders living by themselves that shouldn’t be… We take care of our elders and our kids… That’s just how it’s been taught to us.”
The housing department is also implementing a long-awaited housing repair program in the coming weeks. They have secured the money and developed the policies needed to assist around 50 members. They will also be providing assistance to homeowners who need help with insurance, taxes, and mortgages, etc.
For Councilperson Nuckolls, housing is more than a job, it’s a passion. “We just have so many members that need housing. I believe everybody deserves a roof over their head.“ She went on to explain that very few Members actually live on the reservation. “And that’s because there’s no housing. There’s no jobs.”
The current Business Committee recognizes these issues and is actively taking steps to address them. Ms. Nuckolls believes housing is a great starting place. “Give them a place to live and [Members] will come home to work.”
In fact, “we’re going to be expanding the housing department,” said Ms. Nuckolls. With all the new housing, the department will need someone to maintain all of the units. As the Tribe continues to grow, so will job opportunities.
Housing programs like these are just the beginning. Tribal leaders are excited for the future of the nation. And they hope other Members are too.