Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Housing Authority Secures Victory Through Advocacy!

Through a persistent effort, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Housing Authority has secured an important tax victory which will result in more affordable mortgages for tribal members. Through this effort, individual home buyers constructing their homes have been granted a sales tax exemption for “Indian Use Only Projects,” which means that they will not have to pay sales tax on materials used to build their homes on trust land.  According to JC Crawford, Executive Director of the Sisseton Wahpeton Housing Authority, “eliminating the sales tax makes a real difference for home buyers.  At the end of the day, the savings can determine whether or not one of our tribal members can qualify for their mortgage.”

Initial advocacy efforts around the sales tax provision began back in 2012, when five families building in the Long Hollow subdivision filed a request for consideration of the tax exemption – which is  one-page, on-line fillable form.  When their request was denied, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and their legal group got involved, and the tribal chairman set up a meeting with the Governor.  Following this meeting, the decision to deny the exemption request was reversed, and the exemption was granted.  Through the exemption process, the contractor building the home on trust land gets a letter indicating that all materials purchased for the home will be exempt from state sales tax.

When a new group of families began home construction in June 2016, the Housing Authority assumed that based on the prior decision, their exemption requests would granted.  They were surprised to learn in August 2016 that the requests were denied.  The Housing Authority worked with the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tax Office to begin advocacy efforts once again to secure the exemption for tribal families, and in November 2016, a tribal delegation traveled to Pierre to meet with the Secretary of the SD Department of Revenue, Andy Gerlach.  In this meeting, the delegation needed to show that the tribe had involvement with families throughout the home construction and buying process. At the meeting, the decision to deny the exemption was reversed, and the exemption was granted.

According to Angie Johnson, Administrator/Counselor of the T Yamni ~ Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, this policy victory shows the importance of “pushing forward, pushing forward, and not giving up.” She states, “What’s critical here is that we’re saving our homebuyers money.  Most are low-income, and we try to save as much as we can on their home – which they’ll have for the rest of their lives.”