By TRIBAL NEWS STAFF

Had Joanne Gutierrez taken another path, she might be a dentist helping patients at the Puyallup Tribal Health Authority instead of starting work as Director of the Housing Authority.

Gutierrez was working at the dental clinic, gaining chairside experience and taking classes at University of Washington Tacoma when she made a discovery.

“It just wasn’t meant for me,” said Gutierrez. She changed her focus and earned an Arts and Science Degree from UW Tacoma in 2002. The next year, she spotted an opening for a Resident Service Specialist at what was then called Tribal Housing Authority. She applied and landed the job.

Housing was where she found her passion. And 16 years later, on May 14, 2019, she began working as the Housing Department’s Director. The current department is funded by Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with a mission to enhance the quality of life, stability and prosperity of Native families within the Puyallup Tribal service area.

Gutierrez has always been determined to use her education, skills and knowledge to give back to her community. As a member of the Puyallup Tribal, she had the opportunity to grow up on her ancestral homelands.

“Most of my life I’ve lived here in this community,” she said. “I’ve got pretty deep roots here.”

Gutierrez refers to her first job in housing as “a challenge.” She said, “It was working with individual family members in the community. … I was hitting the field really hard, and working with HUD.”

“It’s something I think the community deserved,” she said. “Shelter … it’s important. If I can provide that service then for those low-income Native American families, then that’s great.”

Gutierrez’s first steps in her new role will include working with the Tribal Council to build a strategic plan that will provide the best service possible to meet the people’s housing needs. Among other things, she is looking at ways to improve technology and services.

“People look to us for examples,” Gutierrez said, pointing to other cases where the Tribe is at the forefront of best practices and techniques, such as the Health Authority where she used to work. In the near future, she is leading the way in providing more low-income housing for local Natives, and has arranged for more cultural, crime prevention and safety activities at the department’s office.

Gutierrez can still be found helping the Tribe outside of work, including with Canoe Journey. She first took part 16 years ago and kept returning.

“It captivated me,” Gutierrez said. “There’s so many connections — mentally, emotionally, spiritually — that draw you in.”

“I’m pretty passionate about culture,” she said. “And just representing the Puyallup Tribal community. That’s one of the main reasons.”

Puyallup Tribal Housing Department, 2806 E. Portland Ave., Suite 200, (253) 573-7956. Programs include low-income rental and home ownership.

Puyallup Tribal Member Joanne Gutierrez earns the title of Housing Director after 16 years of service.
Puyallup Tribal Member Joanne Gutierrez earns the title of Housing Director after 16 years of service.