The Power of Partnerships
Feeling The Impact of COVID On The Arctic Slope
Extreme circumstances and challenging events sometimes bring out the best in people and can often make partnerships even more productive. Such is the case for the working relationship between Taġiuġmiullu Nunamiullu Housing Authority (TNHA) and Alaska Housing Finance Corporation when the entities joined forces to combat the community impacts of COVID-19.
As the Chief Executive Officer of TNHA, Griffin Hagle had a front row seat to the pandemic and its devastating effects on residents of the Arctic Slope. TNHA serves villages distributed across a region about the size of Minnesota, stretching for more than 600 miles from east to west, and a third of that distance from the Arctic Ocean to the Brooks Range. For the coastal and inland people of the region, the span of rugged geography is challenging under normal, everyday circumstances. Mix in the potential ramifications of a highly contagious virus and the concerns became very real, very quickly.
Coming Up With More Than Just Good Ideas
TNHA is one of 14 regional housing authorities in Alaska and the northernmost tribally designated housing entity in the United States. At the onset of the pandemic, Hagle gives AHFC high credit for connecting the right players and immediately bringing a wide range of needed expertise to the table from finance to housing experience. Characterizing the partnership, Hagle notes that there is a long history of regional housing authorities working together. The existing infrastructure and long-term positive relationships were the foundational elements allowing AHFC to bring groups quickly together with ideas and resources.
“AHFC led the way demonstrating how to get things done effectively, while creating a streamlined and efficient process to get emergency rent relief funding into people’s hands where it was needed most,” said Hagle.
Facing New Challenges, But With Familiar Faces
According to Hagle, the statewide Alaska Housing Rent Relief process established by AHFC was smooth and collaborative with strong, regular, and open communications. AHFC committed to a direction, was responsive to concerns and specific data needs, and issues were dealt with promptly. One of the most powerful aspects was to see the recognizable faces and the names of people working on the program.
For the participating Authorities, AHFC set up a series of regular calls to keep everyone involved up-to-date regarding the rollout of the program, the timelines, and the technical aspects of the developing software portal that would serve people statewide. The program AHFC established and put forth was defined in workable, yet accelerated stages, where everyone had a role and contributed.
"Partnerships are a two-way street; it was inspiring to be part of this collaborative effort helping Alaskans in need.”
— Griffin Hagle, Chief Executive Officer, TNHA (Taġiuġmiullu Nunamiullu Housing Authority)
Finding Solutions Specific To Rural Alaska
Of particular note was AHFC’s understanding of the need to accommodate the different regional dynamics as part of the distribution system. They committed early on to finding and facilitating effective metrics specific to the unique aspects of rural Alaska. According to Hagle, this effort was a distinguishing factor and made all the difference in the world in the ability of different regions to give assistance to area residents.
“The reporting to partners was extraordinary and it was inspiring to be part of the collective effort," Hagel shared. "Other states have struggled to distribute federal emergency funds with the efficiencies of AHFC. I never felt in the dark because the reporting was very transparent.”
The collective effort and groundwork conducted by AHFC allowed TNHA to take swift advantage of the program and serve several dozen renters in the area the housing authority represents. In 2022, they anticipate being able to provide stable housing for up to 27 low-income residents, including 15 minors, crowded into three dilapidated structures in the village of Point Lay. The structures are set to be demolished as part of a TNHA redevelopment project — but first, the families, representing nearly 10% percent of the village, must be safely relocated. While not a typical challenge of the pandemic, it is no less real for community members. Alaska Housing Rent Relief set the bar for how TNHA plans to conduct this next phase of its rent relief program.
Setting the Course for Tackling Future Needs
Fast forward to today and Hagle recognizes the long-term impact on TNHA’s communities based on the experience with AHFC. Managing the crisis of the pandemic on top of the daily activities of a housing authority would have been extremely difficult. The infrastructure that AHFC provided as a trusted partner and resource offered a type of “white label solution” and a boost for staff to confidently move this model forward. Looking ahead, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The program can be replicated in the region serving people in need, with the added bonus of keeping the local connection — critical in rural communities of Alaska.
“Building something of this magnitude from scratch would have been challenging for our organization. AHFC took the burden away. By sharing their expertise, they gave us a true gift — a glimpse into a future window of what is possible. The partnership with AHFC has allowed TNHA to envision the elements of best practices and the positive impact that such efforts can have at scale for our community moving forward.”