From housing to healthcare: New casinos could help Winnebago reservation grow

The rest of this money is used for housing, a down payment assistance program and other community, federal or private programs. This amount totaled approximately $1.3 million last year.

The Winnebago Reservation’s current poverty rate sits at 22% of Winnebago residents living below the state poverty line, according to the 2020 census. A different census survey from 2000 indicated the number was higher.

Morgan said Ho-Chunk provides more opportunities for the Winnebago People than before.

“If you go back in time and look at Winnebago in the early 90s, it was one of the poorest towns in Nebraska,” he said. “And now we have an entity. I think we’ll probably make about $400 million a year – non-gaming revenue.

The company employs about 86 members of the Winnebago tribe living on the reservation and about 119 Native Americans in total, according to their 2021 report.

Once the casinos are established, Morgan said Ho-Chunk would first pay for their construction costs. Morgan said the bill wouldn’t be small.

“I know the combined cost to Omaha and Lincoln will be around $560 million,” Morgan said.

Once construction costs are covered, Morgan said the company could continue work to build more affordable housing in Winnebago.

Kenneth Grant of Winnebago and the Omaha Tribe said he would appreciate more investment in affordable housing.

“Build a house for everyone – a nice house,” he said.

In the past, Ho-Chunk worked with the tribe to develop the “Ho-Chunk Village”. It is a 40 acre housing development with 115 units, on the north end of Winnebago.

It includes single-family homes, multi-family homes, seniors’ residences, apartments, and retail stores.

The housing program, administered by a third-party nonprofit, helps cover the initial down payment on a new home for families looking to buy. This allows Indigenous people to build wealth over generations, rather than living in government-subsidized housing.

Kenneth Grant said he thought Ho-Chunk Village was a great idea now and was moving forward.

“We are going in a good direction,” he said. “…I love our city, I love the way we thrive.”

“You know, it’s not out of the casinos either, it’s just fair – hard work.”

Morgan said Ho-Chunk is currently planning to develop another village which he calls Ho-Chunk Village 2.0.

He said there are historical challenges of land ownership and poverty that the tribe must overcome.

“What most people don’t understand is that our lands are held in trust. We have no tax revenue at all, barely, as a tribal entity,” Morgan said. “Thus, we provide our social services thanks to the profits generated by our economic activity.”

Ho-Chunk had to buy land from a non-native farmer to expand. They could not buy reserved land because of the way it is held.

About Michael B. Billingsley

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