March 1, 2023

EDA's Good Jobs Challenge Boosts Jobs, Tackles Housing Shortage in South Dakota

The Badlands National Park South Unit, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Credit: Ellen White Thunder, Lakota Funds.
The Badlands National Park South Unit, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Credit: Ellen White Thunder, Lakota Funds.

Lakota Funds is a community development financial institution (CDFI) dedicated to creating economic development opportunities on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It works to increase the number of businesses on Tribal lands and create self-sufficiency for its citizens.

It first opened its doors in 1986 as the first Native American CDFI. Since then, it has expanded to include the nearby Rosebud Reservation and has awarded more than 1,200 loans totaling $17.5 million, creating more than 2,000 permanent jobs. Today, loans of up to $1 million are available and they have begun offering lines of credit to their customers.

In 2022, Lakota Funds was one of 32 organizations awarded under the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Good Jobs Challenge. The $5 million grant will support the Building Jobs, Building Homes project, created in response to a severe housing shortage on Tribal lands and a shortage of contractors.

This workforce development initiative offers training programs in the construction trades. A construction internship program was established at South Dakota State University and students are currently deployed at four sites throughout the state. They receive OSHA-safety certification and fall prevention training and equipment.

The program was also designed to increase the capacity of contractors by providing administrative support services. Native American contract organizations are often a one-man operation, limiting the number of projects and clients they can assume. By increasing capacity, the program allows contractors to grow their businesses while employing more members of the community.

Once a home has been completed, it must then be appraised, but appraisers are also in high demand. This program is addressing that issue as well by increasing the number of appraisers eligible to work on Trust lands. It is also working to increase the number of home inspectors, offering mechanical, electrical and plumbing certifications while helping the Tribes adopt modern building codes.

After completing the program, many students will be hired on a permanent basis. They are also eligible to complete their master’s degree through the program, thanks in part to EDA funding.

“The Building Jobs, Building Homes project works to help increase home ownership for Native American families throughout South Dakota,” said Tawney Brunsch, Executive Director. “The Good Jobs Challenge is helping to do just that, creating a new workforce of skilled construction industry professionals to create the homes that are in great demand.”

Construction loans are available to help customers complete their dream homes. Lakota Funds also offers mortgage loans to help their customers take ownership. Transportation is an issue within Indian country as well, and vehicle loans are also available.

It’s a lot of work for Brunsch and her team of six, who operate in remote Kyle, South Dakota, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re two hours from the closest Starbucks,” noted Ellen White Thunder, Deputy Director. “Many of our clients are just as remote, and we’re grateful that this award will allow us to continue helping them realize their dreams of home ownership and economic security.”