Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly met with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan Sept. 12 to reaffirm the Navajo Nation's pledge to work with the agency to deal with the housing needs of the Navajo people.
During the meeting, Shelly thanked Donovan and said the government-to-government discussion is "important for tribal sovereignty and self-determination."
Former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah and former vice chairman and current Navajo Housing Authority (NHA) Board of Commissioners Chair Ed T. Begay joined Shelly.
"I come to you as a tribal leader, with past tribal leaders who have the responsibility to work for Navajo to express our full commitment to address the housing needs of the Navajo people and our full commitment to fixing issues that have created backlogs within our system," Shelly said.
A recent Navajo Nation Housing survey showed an unmet housing need of $9 billion. The survey did not include the former Bennett Freeze Area.
The former Bennett Freeze Area came about because of a 1966 federal policy implemented because of a dispute between the Navajo and the Hopi nations.
Robert Bennett, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1966, ordered a freeze on development in a 1.5 million acre area located in the western portion of the Navajo Nation where more than 12,000 Navajo citizens lived.
The policy made building homes, constructing additions, or making repairs to homes against the law. As a result of the Bennett Freeze, residents were, for all intents and purposes, abandoned. Roofs could not be fixed, holes could not be patched, and modern, indoor plumbing was off limits. The federal government prohibited economic and infrastructure development, in an area already under developed, for 40 years.
"Our housing need in the Bennett Freeze is $4 billion. Added to our known need of $9 billion, the Navajo Nation has a $13 billion housing need," Shelly said.
During the meeting, Shelly also underscored the importance of housing as the cornerstone of development, leading to economic prosperity and job creation.
Shelly also emphasized the importance of reauthorizing or extending the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) as a way to address housing needs in Indian Country. The law expires Sept. 30.
Under NAHASDA, block grant allocation formulas and guiding rules are established through tribally driven negotiated rule making committees. This process is at the heart of the self-determination aspect of the law.
The president also expressed support for the work the Navajo Housing Authority (NHA) has done this fiscal year.
"In this fiscal year alone, NHA will spend $137 million on housing projects on the Navajo Nation, more than any other tribally designated housing entity in the history of NAHASDA," Shelly said.
NAHASDA is up for reauthorization by Congress. Simultaneously, HUD is holding meetings with its tribally based NAHASDA formula negotiated rule making committee to determine if a new allocation formula is needed.
"We have full confidence in the negotiated rule making process. Leaving tribal decisions to tribal leaders is at the heart of the intent of NAHASDA. Other tribal leaders also support the negotiated rule making process," Shelly added.
At the end of the meeting, Shelly extended a personal invitation to Donovan to see firsthand the Navajo Nation's housing problem, and to see the real progress the NHA has made to provide housing.
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