Begaye sees need for restructure within Navajo Housing Authority

Executive director steps down, 30,000 homes currently needed to fill housing deficit on reservation

The Navajo Housing Authority building in Window Rock, Arizona. Katherine Locke/NHO

The Navajo Housing Authority building in Window Rock, Arizona. Katherine Locke/NHO

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — On June 28, the Office of the President and Vice President announced Aneva Yazzie, Navajo Housing Authority CEO, stepped down, effective June 30 after reports on the lack of homes being built on the Navajo Nation.

The move follows a back and forth between the Office of the President and Vice President and the NHA (Navajo Housing Authority) at the end of June on how effective the NHA has been in building houses for the Navajo people.

On June 27, the NHA Board of Commissioners sent out a press release defending the NHA against what it sees as inaccurate reporting into money being spent on housing and how effective the NHA has been.

“When we first got on board, we were provided a lot of negative, one-sided information about the NHA organization,” said Board Chairman Kris Beecher, Vice Chairwoman Derrith Watchman-Moore and Secretary/Treasurer Sean McCabe. “But having been here for four weeks, we’re now finding out that a lot of information has been exaggerated and misinterpreted about NHA. And we want to clarify some of that misinformation.”

The Board called into question reports in the news about the money spent, $54.9 million to modernize 50 houses at the cost of $1.1 million per house. The Board said the news report from the Arizona Republic did not take into consideration that the NHA was in the process of modernizing another 332 homes that were between 50-90 percent complete.

“Most certainly, there are inaccuracies that the Arizona Republic reported that were repeated in national news media, which led the Navajo Nation Council to pass legislation based on information from these media stories,” the board said. “Let us be clear, however, there are things they got right, but there are also things they got very wrong.”

A report issued by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said NHA had spent $125 million on the Houck, Arizona Bluestone development project to date, when the NHA Board of Commissioners said only $10.3 million has been spent.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez said June 28, in response to the NHA press release, they view the bottom line as money appropriated per year compared to the number of homes constructed.

“There is a current need for 30,000 or more homes for the Navajo people,” Begaye said. “This is not a projected amount, but the need as of today. We are not talking about public facilities, renovating homes, replacing units, tiles or whatever. It’s simple. We need homes to be constructed for our people.”

Begaye said the Office of the President and Vice President has reviewed the figures and reports that were put forth by the NHA administrative staff as requested by McCain’s staff.  

“When we compute the appropriated monies per year against the number of houses that were built, it’s clear that NHA is not building houses for our people,” Nez said. “You can renovate all you want, but that doesn’t give homes to families who need them.”

Begaye and Nez said their administration has prioritized the building of homes for the Navajo people but in reviewing the money that has been appropriated for that purpose, Begaye and Nez do not see homes being built.

“The administration sees no justification in NHA starting [fewer] than 100 homes per year,” they said.

Begaye said the process is broken and he and Nez see a need for restructuring and reorganization within the NHA.

“No matter how you skew the numbers, no matter the findings or perception of limited findings, the bottom line is how much money you receive and how many homes you’ve built,” Begaye said.

The Board of Commissioners said in its statement that the report of inaccurate reporting does not mean that NHA had made no mistakes at any time in the past or that there are no issues.

“NHA must take responsibility for many of the things that have gone wrong in the past,” the commissioners said. “But not addressing these damaging inaccuracies now would only further the spread of misinformation and hinder the truth. It is our fiduciary duty to set the record straight and put an end to the domino effect it has created.”

But Begaye and Nez emphasized that it views the bottom line as productivity and that if NHA is not producing homes, then changes would be put in place, which would include changes in personnel, as Yazzie’s stepping down indicates.

“For NHA to say they are doing great and there aren’t any findings is totally unacceptable,” Begaye said. “Clearly houses are not being built and monies are not being spent. There is a clear indication that we have a dysfunctional housing authority that continues to provide excuses for not building houses.”

Nez said so far NHA’s record is clear.

“Houses are not being built,” he said. “Excuses continue to be made. If NHA were a business, it would have defaulted years ago. Because of their record thus far, changes will be made at an administrative level. It has to be done this way.”

The Navajo Nation Council confirmed the appointment of Frankie C. Lee to serve on the Navajo Housing Authority’s board of commissioners July 6 by a vote of 12-0.

Council Delegate Jonathan Perry (Becenti, Crownpoint, Huerfano, Lake Valley, Nageezi, Nahodishgish, Tse’ii’ahi, Whiterock) sponsored the confirmation bill, which fills the position on the five-member NHA board that requires the commissioner to be a registered architect or licensed professional engineer.

Lee, a member of the Navajo Nation, is a licensed professional engineer. His educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Colorado and a master’s in business administration from the University of Nebraska.

According to his letter of interest, Lee has worked in engineering and construction for the past 20 years for the Nebraska Department of Roads, the Massachusetts Highway Department, various engineering firms, and most recently as a self-employed engineering consultant.

The confirmation fills the fourth vacancy on the five-member NHA board. The Naabik’íyáti’ Committee serves as the final authority for the confirmation.

The fifth and final board position is currently being advertised, which seeks a member who is an NHA tenant or homebuyer participating in programs administered by NHA.

All applicants must have post-high school education and employment experience in the area of business operations, architecture, construction management, finance, accounting, investing or in other specialized areas of construction or business that is related to the activities of the NHA and at least three years of management or leadership experience in business or a local unit of government. Candidates cannot be former employees of NHA within the past three years.

Individuals interested in the tenant/homebuyer NHA board position are asked to submit a letter of interest and resume to the Office of the President and Vice President, PO Box 7440, Window Rock, Arizona 86515.

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