Since 2003, Emma “Pinky” Clifford has developed a strong partnership with Running Strong for American Indian Youth® through her role as executive director of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Partnership for Housing.
Over the years, Running Strong and the OSTPH, led by Pinky, have helped to put hundreds of residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation into homes and repaired the homes of families and elders in need.
Pinky is well versed in the needs of housing for Pine Ridge families and elders serving as a U.S. Housing and Urban Development Community Builder from 1998 to 2000, and prior to that serving as a Tribal Council Member representing the Wounded Knee District on the reservation.
A member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Pinky has been working to improve housing conditions on Pine Ridge for well over two decades.
More recently, she received the Jason Community Service Award from the Housing Assistance Council in Washington, DC, in 2008 and the HUD Leadership Award at the Faith-Based and Neighborhood Leadership Conference in Denver in 2009.
In 2011, she was appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to the South Dakota Commission for National and Community Service.
She serves on the Board of Directors for the Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing Authority and as the first and only Native American Board Member of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a research and advocacy organization based in Washington, DC.
In addition to serving on the Running Strong Advisory Board, she has served on the Board of Lakota Funds, the first Native American Community Development Financial Institution in American, as well as owning and operating her own community business Pinky’s (of course), a grocery store in the Pine Ridge community of Manderson for more than 30 years.
The need for new homes is great on the reservation is numbering into the thousands, says Pinky, adding that even one new house makes a big difference.
“If you look at the whole housing issue at once…it’s overwhelming,” she said in an interview with South Dakota Public Broadcasting. “It will depress you. But I look at it one house at a time. And that’s how we can change the face of housing here on Pine Ridge…one house at a time.”
In her role as executive director of OSTPH, Clifford is passionate about housing providing counseling to families and working closely with Consumer Credit Counseling of the Black Hills and the Lakota Fund to fund purchases.
Pinky joined the board of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition as an at-large member in 2012 after being nominated to represent the Great Plains states by then-President and CEO Sheila Crowley who had visited Pine Ridge the year before.
Pinky took her around showcasing the partnership’s projects and explaining to her the housing problems on the reservation.
“I was really taken with her,” Crowley told the Rapid City Journal. “I found her work to be quite inspiring.”
After seeing the poor quality of housing many Pine Ridge residents were living including Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers, which had been intended for temporary housing, Crowley said she was amazed.
“I’ve seen a lot of bad housing in the United States, but I was really not prepared for some of the conditions I saw there,” she said.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, of the 3,000 homes on the reservation, nearly 400 did not have full plumbing and 330 did not have full kitchens. Most of the homes on the reservation were valued at less than $20,000.
OSTPH CEO Paul Iron Cloud describes Pinky as “a super person” and team player.
“She wants to do everything that’s good for the people,” he told the Rapid City Journal. “I just admire the lady for what she does and what she thinks. She helps everybody.”
Through our partnership with Pinky and OSTPH over the years, together we have been able to provide basic rehab and make repairs to privately-owned family homes on the reservation which are unsafe, unsanitary, and/or unfit to provide the necessary warmth and shelter for households with children during the winter months. Homes which qualify for little or no rehab/repair assistance from federal or tribal programs are prioritized.
Recent projects include:
*When an elderly woman could no longer safely get in and out of her house due to damaged doors and porch, the doors were replaced and her porch was repaired.
“The residence is now a healthy and safe place, both for her and her grandchildren – who are frequent visitors and guests,” said Pinky.
*OSTPH took emergency measures when an elderly woman’s roof was about to cave in on her and her daughter, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild all living under that roof. Although the woman qualified for assistance through the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Home Improvement Program, just to complete the paperwork and planning would’ve taken a year.
“If we had not taken action when we did, the whole family would have been without a place to stay,” Pinky said. “We also helped avert a tragedy because without the work that roof could have collapsed on family members at any time.”
*Although Juanita is a very determined and hard-working grandmother, her living conditions put a lot of stress on her.
“She cried when found out she was not ‘on the list’ for a new home because of some glitch in the way she filled out her application,” Pinky told us. “The home she occupied with her grandchildren and two children was about to collapse because of roof damage that was not eligible for repair under FEMA guidelines.
“We initiated emergency repairs that would keep the roof from caving in for a while and we helped her to re-do her paperwork for the possibility of a new home,” Pinky noted, adding that the woman also enrolled in the OSTPH Homebuyer Education program and submitted a loan application through another housing program.
“We are a ‘tiny but mighty’ organization going into our 18th year of existence,” she said. “We have learned to become quite creative through thick and thin times.
“We know that we are the ‘last hope’ for some families in need of home repair and budget management counseling.”
And this is why she does it:
“I love housing,” she told the Rapid City Journal. “It’s hard work, but when you see people in homes, and they’re in a safe and affordable home, it’s worth it.”