Navajo Nation acquires Washington D.C. office space for $4.9 million
Heated debate leads to 16-9 vote in favor of purchasing property next to U.S. Capitol
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — On Feb. 5, the Navajo Nation Council approved the purchase of property located at 11 D Street, S.E. in Washington, located approximately 500 yards from the U.S. Capitol.
The property will be utilized as the permanent location of the Navajo Nation Washington Office (NNWO).
The total purchase price and closing fees approved from the principal of the Navajo Nation Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) was $4,890,281.50.
Approval for the purchase came through Legislation No. 0220-20, which was sponsored by Council Delegate Wilson Stewart, Jr. (Fort Defiance, Crystal, Red Lake, Sawmill) and co-sponsored by Council Delegate Rickie Nez (T’iistsoh Sikaad, Nenahnezad, Upper Fruitland, Tsé Daa K’aan, Newcomb, San Juan).
In addition to the property’s potential as an investment for the Navajo Nation, Stewart said the property will save the Nation money.
“In the future, we will have savings that we can use now for infrastructure,” he said.
Stewart was accompanied by NNWO Executive Director Santee Lewis in presenting the legislation where Lewis explained that the Navajo Nation currently pays $25,033 per month, or $300,000 annually, to rent the current office suite at 750 First Street, NE.
The Navajo Nation will no longer pay rent once it owns the property.
The NNWO, founded in 1984, lobbies for federal legislation favoring the Navajo Nation. Most recently, that advocacy included infrastructure measures like the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement Act.
Lewis estimated an annual operating budget of approximately $32,000, including an estimated $4,476 in utility payments, $6,000 in cleaning services, $1,440 in landscaping fees, $2,500 for insurance and other contributions to a suggested deferred maintenance fund.
During discussion, council delegates voiced issue with using trust funds to acquire property beyond the traditional Navajo homeland and for repair and renovation costs disallowed under the Navajo Nation Land Acquisition Act of 2016 (NNLAA).
Delegates pointed to critical infrastructure and housing needs on the reservation that still need to be addressed.
“How can the president assist me in responding to constituents living in tents, shacks and cardboard boxes?” asked Council Delegate Vince James (Jeddito, Cornfields, Ganado, Kinłichii’, Steamboat).
The Office of the President and Vice President provided assurances those issues were being addressed through temporary structures and other initiatives under development.
By request of the council, the Office of the Controller provided a cost-benefit analysis for the property purchase.
“Long term, yes, it would make sense if we’re going to hold this for 20 years. Short-term, might as well stick with the lease,” said Investment Section Financial Analyst Brent Wauneka.
Council Delegate Amber Kanzbah Crotty (Cove, Toadlena/Two Grey Hills, Red Valley, Tsé’ałnáoozt’i’í, Sheepsprings, Beclabito, Gad’ii’áhí/Tó Ko’í) also requested information on possible liens or tax liabilities.
As the primary administrator of the LATF, the Navajo Land Department said the property had no tax liens and that estimated tax liabilities were set at $16,000 based on last year’s taxes paid by previous owners of $15,569. The department was tasked with performing due diligence on the property on behalf of the Navajo Nation.
Navajo Land Department Manager Mike Halona added the department will discuss tax exemptions with D.C. authorities once the property is held by the Navajo Nation.
Council Delegate Pernell Halona (Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti, Tohatchi, Bahastl’a’a’) pointed to the elimination of rental fees in his support of the legislation.
“That money will never come back to the Navajo Nation. We need to look past it and see this is an investment,” he said.
According to Lewis, once the property is purchased the building is suitable for immediate move-in.
“There is a detached carriage house that sits at the rear of the building. In the past, that building has been rented out to different organizations for a rental fee of $5,000 per month,” he said, adding that the front lawn area could be rented for events because of its proximity to the US Capitol.
In Lewis’ closing statements, she noted the Navajo Nation would be the only tribal nation with this type of property on Capitol Hill.
“It is important that this acquisition is recognized as a home for the Navajo People in Washington, D.C.,” Lewis said.
After debate and discussion on the legislation, the Navajo Nation Council voted to cease debate and proceed to a roll-call vote. The legislation met the two-thirds vote requirement for approval with 16 votes in favor and seven opposed.
Following final review and certification, the legislation will be sent to the Office of the President and Vice President for final action within 10 days.
As of Dec. 31, 2020, the controller reported the principal balance of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund was $206,377,663.
Additionally, the interest income balance was $4,271,861, as calculated using the fund’s audited figures from the 2018 fiscal year.