Despite $434 million unspent balance, Navajo Housing Authority wins council approval

Navajo Nation Council votes to keep housing agency instead of forming new Navajo Nation Housing Commission

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The Navajo Housing Authority (NHA) narrowly held on to its tribally designated housing authority in a vote on June 28 during a special session of the Navajo Nation Council.

The vote was 9 in favor and 11 opposed to replacing the housing authority with a Navajo Nation Housing Commission, which would then have served as the designated housing authority. The commission would have consisted of five members: three appointed by the president and two appointed by the speaker - the resources and development committee would have confirmed all five members.

"I'm pleased that the wisdom and leadership of the council prevailed today. This is a victory for the people," said Aneva Yazzie, chief executive officer for NHA. "Keeping the tribally designated housing entity with the Navajo Housing Authority will not only provide stability and continuity but this decision supports processes that have been ongoing and will make the Navajo Housing Authority a more effective organization."

Before the vote, Yazzie said that a major concern for the housing authority was that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would likely stop payments under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act and refuse to recognize the commission as the new authority if the legislation were adopted.

"Without a well thought out transition in place, there will be mass confusion and major disruption in the delivery of housing services," Yazzie said.

She worried that the new commission wouldn't have a payment system in place and that with millions of dollars in financial transactions taking place every month the future of Navajo people's housing would be in jeapordy.

Yet, the NHA has been under fire for failing to spend millions of dollars in grant money administered through HUD. The housing authority received a letter of warning from HUD administer Randy Akers in April that said in 2012 the Navajo Nation had left $150 million unspent despite a budgeted expenditure of $215 million. The housing authority spent just $66 million in 2012. Dating back to 2000, Akers said NHA had an unspent balance of $434 million.

After the vote, Yazzie said that the housing authority has made strides toward providing housing for the Navajo people. She said the agency has cleared up outstanding program reviews and audit findings left behind by the former chief executive officer. She also said the housing agency is in the process of developing a master plan for the entire Navajo Nation, which will include economic development and housing, and that the housing authority is investing in state of the art land surveying information databases.

NHA plans to roll out a new housing program, which will encompass all income levels and provide housing options for Navajo people, sometime in the future.

"It is in our best interest to maintain and nurture our relationship with the Navajo Nation Council," said Yazzie. "We need the council's leadership to help with land reform as well as other barriers to housing development and we can only do this by working together."

She added that the defeat of the legislation will aid in the Nation having a unified voice to Congress and the administration to tackle important issues.

Council member Lorenzo Bates also opposed the legislation.

"Given that we don't have a plan, my concern is how all this will be tied back to the Navajo Nation government," Bates said. "I agree that our people need housing but to put up any housing we need chapters to provide land too."

Another council delegate, Elmer Begay, said he voted against the legislation because his chapter was against it.

And Council Delegate Danny Simpson said leaders should not jeopardize what is already in place.

"The federal government is looking at us right now," Simpson said. "They always look at instability."

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