What has been most instrumental to your progress?
One of the key aspects to making progress on this initiative was the determination of Coalition members to continue innovating and creating to address the barriers to homeownership on trust land. For example, one of the goals of our work was to expand the number of residential construction professionals serving Indian reservations. When we saw that the majority of our training participants were not passing the inspector certification exam, we worked with the International Code Council (that manages that training and exam process) to plan a longer, more in-depth training where students could take a paper/pencil exam on site. Overall, five Coalition members have passed the exam and are now certified inspectors.
Another key aspect of our progress was developing concrete products and solutions. Rather than simply talking about or strategizing about how to show tribal members that homeownership is possible, the Coalition produced a tangible video series highlighting Native homeowners who had succeeded in the process. They served as real life examples of families who persevered to overcome barriers.
A third aspect of progress focuses on a constant evaluation process – is this working? Is this effective? How can we make it more effective? Looking at data collection and impact tracking efforts, for example, the Coalition recognized that Coalition members were not effectively collecting and sharing data to show the impact of the Coalition’s work on improving homeownership on trust land. Our ongoing evaluation showed the need to redesign the data collection instruments, and to build in additional support to conduct outreach, training and capacity building with individual Coalition members. By making the data collection process less onerous and more user-friendly, we are already seeing improvements in our impact measurement efforts.
Key lessons learned
We learned that there are no “quick fixes" or easy answers. Effectively addressing the barriers means designing programming and products that are tailored to the needs of tribal members and tribal organizations. While we could see having five certified inspectors as a failure (based on the 35 training participants), we see it as a success – as five more Coalition members are qualified to conduct inspections. In addition, through conversations with instructors, the Coalition has learned that an issue affecting our members’ ability to pass the exam is their lack of experience with building codes. Many potential inspectors living off-reservation in towns and cities work with codes for years before taking the exam. They have the opportunity to become familiar with codes, and practice using codes in actual inspection situations. With this in mind, the Coalition is looking at different options, including partnering with local post-secondary institution to offer a semester-long training course, to provide more in-depth preparation for the exam, as well as designing a hands-on component with the opportunity to conduct actual on-site inspections and practice using the code.
This year, the Coalition also saw how successful efforts often take more time to achieve than we originally anticipate. Looking at the video campaign, for example, the Coalition invested considerable time into selecting the video professionals, and providing guidance about messaging, families to interview, and the final product. While we originally envisioned one trip to the selected tribal communities to shoot the video, it was necessary for the team to return for a second trip to capture the messages and footage we needed.
Our work on this initiative also underscored the importance of relationships to effecting change, and relationships take time to build. Our work on the Construction Internship Program, for example, builds on our relationships with participating contractors and housing authority staff who agreed to sponsor interns based their comfort levels with the Coalition. We have learned how data collection and impact tracking efforts also require one-on-one outreach and trusted relationships in place, ensuring that Coalition members are comfortable asking questions and sharing data.
Reflections on the community innovation process
Collaboration has been the most important element to our progress. Our Coalition has built on and fostered statewide collaborations among Native housing practitioners; collaborations between federal, state, and tribal officials; and collaborations that bring together private/public and nonprofit/for-profit entities. For example, Native community development financial institutions (Native CDFIs) have been encouraging their small business contractor clients to explore the supports the Coalition is offering to residential construction professionals including certification training and internship opportunities. Also, for our impact tracking work, we've collaborated with federal agencies to obtain loan data to assist our nonprofit providers to track their outputs and to measure impact.
Progress toward an innovation
The Coalition has made considerable progress towards achieving innovations through our activities during the grant period. Looking at the lack of construction professionals serving Native communities, the Coalition’s work has led to concrete results. Beyond the five Coalition members who are now certified inspectors through our efforts, we now have a clearer understanding of what it will take to support even more professionals’ efforts to become certified. Recognizing that achieving homeownership is not even “on the radar” for many Native families, we now have a video series that we can share through social media and partners around the state, highlighting the stories of real families that have achieved homeownership. Looking at the need for our member organizations to effectively collect data and track their progress, as well as the need for collective data collection efforts, we now have refined instruments that members can use to effectively collect their data and show impacts.
What it will take to reach an innovation?
While the Coalition did achieve innovations through our grant-supported activities, we believe that we need to go further to achieve the results we are projecting and to see significantly more Native families accessing homeownership. We need to design an inspector certification training designed to support Native construction professionals, many of whom have limited experience in working with building codes. We need to work to ensure that the “Native homeownership is possible” video series is far-reaching throughout the reservations in the State, and track efforts by interested homeowners to learn more about opportunities in their communities. We need to build on our data collection efforts, to develop a broad Theory of Change to capture the impacts of the Coalition.
The Coalition is strongly committed to continuing this project, to taking the next steps to tackle the barriers we have identified and provide the opportunity for more Native families to become homeowners. Our plans to strengthen the Native construction industry will focus on developing an in-depth, hands-on inspector certification training tailored to our construction professionals, explore how to increase the number of qualified appraisers, and build the construction workforce through our construction internship. Our plans to share the message that “Native homeownership is possible” will focus on working in collaboration with Coalition members to promote the video series that we have developed, and tracking homebuyers’ efforts to access assistance as a result of the videos. Our plans to track impact will focus on continuing to support Coalition members’ efforts to collect data and developing a Theory of Change to reflect the broader impacts we are working to achieve.
If you could do it all over again...
Our advice would be that this work takes time. Many of our Coalition leaders are action-oriented which has been critical to our success and has helped us to create momentum. While it is important to maintain that drive, test innovations, and focus on results, it is also important to recognize that the barriers to homeownership on trust land are complex and deeply entrenched and will take time and innovative strategies to overcome.
One last thought
Because the Coalition was able to leverage and piggyback on existing community meetings throughout the grant period, our meeting expenses and travel stipend budget line items were lower than anticipated. Therefore, we were able to allocate those funds to other budget line items, including supporting construction intern stipends through the Construction Internship Program.