NHA celebrates 50th anniversary

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, May 2, 2013

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly speaks at the Navajo Housing Authority’s 50th anniversary celebration Wednesday at Nakai Hall in Window Rock.
BOTTOM: Senior development coordinator with Navajo Housing Authority’s construction management department Calandra L. Cook speaks about how current NHA homes look like today Wednesday in Window Rock.

I t was hard Wednesday for people to put into words just how much of a difference the Navajo Housing Authority has meant for the Navajo people since it first opened its doors 50 years ago.

Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on building new homes on the reservation and thousands of Navajo families have gone from living in hogans without running water and electricity to brand new homes with all of the amenities found in homes off the reservation.

As NHA officials formally celebrated its 50th anniversary at Nakai Hall Wednesday, with speeches and booths sponsored by the various divisions within NHA, a lot of people got a chance to say just how good NHA has been for the Navajo people.

For example, Alta Bluehouse's assisted living group found itself without a home almost a decade ago when it was forced to move out of the Toyei home and into quarters in Chinle.

That turned out to be a legal nightmare as the group had to fight to keep from being evicted. With no place to move to next, officials wondered if they would ever find anyone to help them.

Bluehouse said NHA stepped in and provided the funding to build two new group homes.

"The elderly will tell you how happy they are," she said.

The first 50 years of NHA has not been easy.

Former tribal Vice-Chairman Ed T. Begay pointed to difficulties the housing authority had in getting land withdrawn for the housing complexes NHA was planning on building throughout the reservation.

The delays, he said, would often cause the federal government to take back some of the money it had given to the program and it also caused, in many cases, delays of years to get the projects underway.

Even more recently, he said, the scandal centering around former NHA director Chester Carl resulted in the federal government putting a three year moratorium on any new construction at a time when NHA had thousands of Navajo families begging to be allowed to move into a new NHA house.

To understand the role NHA has had in making life on the reservation better for thousands of Navajo families, one only has to understand the role the home plays in the Navajo culture, said Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly.

"In the Navajo culture and teachings, the home is sacred," he said. "It is the place where we learn and share stories, it is the place where sacred ceremonies are held and it is the place where we strengthen our families."

The creation of housing complexes, he said, leads to more power lines and roads. It leads to better grades for Navajo students and it provides Navajos with more business opportunities.

Today, NHA receives about $90 million a year in federal housing grants with about half of that going toward new construction (37 percent goes for maintaining and operating existing units, while 10 percent goes to other areas such as crime prevention).

Aneva Yazzie, NHA's current CEO, said NHA is on track to modernize more than 500 homes across the reservation this year and is drawing up plans to build a minimum of 34,100 new homes in the coming years.

"NHA is making a big impact in Navajo communities," she said.

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