Navajo Housing Authority up in the air
Congressional members voice concerns over performance of housing authority; Council votes to remove board members, await president's final approval
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — On April 20, the Navajo Nation Council voted 16-4 in support of legislation which would effectively remove the current Navajo Housing Authority board of commission members, if the resolution is approved by Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.
The emergency legislation was added to the Spring Session agenda April 20 by a vote of 17-1.
In January, the council approved a resolution to lower the number of Navajo Housing Authority (NHA) board members from eight to five and to increase and improve the qualification criteria for the board. The resolution stated the changes would take effect 120 days after the president signed it Feb. 10.
The legislation passed April 20 would change the effective date and the changes would take effect immediately after the president signs it into law. If signed into law, the resolution would immediately remove the current board members.
In his opening remarks to council, legislation sponsor Council Delegate Jonathan Perry (Becenti, Crownpoint, Huerfano, Lake Valley, Nageezi, Nahodishgish, Tse’ii’ahi, Whiterock) said a change in board members is necessary to improve NHA and to provide more homes for Navajo people.
According to the legislation, NHA completed 26 homes in 2016, 50 homes in 2015, and 21 homes in 2014.
As stated in the findings of the legislation, NHA Executive Director Aneva Yazzie reported to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCOIA) that NHA spent $103,099,619 on development and construction, $71,600,000 in 2015 and $92,500,000 in 2014. Yet, within this three-year period, NHA only built 97 homes. The expenditures for the three-year period totaled $267,199,619.
“This emergency legislation is an opportunity for the Navajo Nation to address the spending of NHA dollars,” Begaye said. “It also affords us the opportunity to hold NHA’s top management accountable to how these dollars should be spent, which is on the people who need housing the most.”
Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie (Baca/Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Counselor, Littlewater, Ojo Encino, Pueblo Pintado, Torreon, Whitehorse Lake) spoke in support of the legislation, adding that the lack of proper management at NHA has led to wasteful spending and a severe shortage of homes for students, elderly, veterans and families.
“When you have people living in storage units that is a testament to the mismanagement at NHA,” Tsosie said.
The council was also informed that Congressional members and staff recently visited the Navajo Nation and shared their concerns over the performance of NHA and noted the Navajo Nation could face one of several repercussions, including having the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) take over the housing program, having a cap placed on federal funds that the Navajo Nation receives, or having a freeze placed on NHA funding.
“We cannot lose this money, as it has critical impacts on the Navajo people. We needed to enact this legislation to tell the SCOIA that the Nation is taking steps to address this issue,” Begaye said.
Navajo Nation Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Begaye, and Council Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd (Jeddito, Cornfields, Ganado, Kin Dah Lichíí, Steamboat) recently issued a letter to the current board members outlining their concerns and disappointment with the current state of NHA, and requested the immediate resignation and/or removal of NHA’s managing officers.
Shepherd serves as the chair of the Resources and Development Committee, which has oversight authority over NHA.
Prior to taking action on the legislation, the council met with Begaye, who said he supports the legislation, adding that he has met many people throughout the Navajo Nation who have told him that they have given up on trying to obtain housing through NHA. He added that many times housing applicants are told that their documents have been misplaced and many have been on waiting lists to receive housing for years. He also noted that many Navajo people are now resorting to purchasing and living in storage units because of the lack of housing on the Navajo Nation.
Since the council approved the changes to the NHA board in January, the board positions have been advertised and approximately 30 individuals have submitted applications. Begaye said that interviews are ongoing and he wants to have new board members selected by the end of the week.
Prior to voting on the legislation, the council also approved an amendment directing NHA to ensure the safety of all official documents. The president has 10 days to consider the legislation after it is received.