NHA lashes back at Benally as HUD threatens to pull funds

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, August 22, 2013

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O fficials for the Navajo Housing Authority Thursday lashed out at a member of the Navajo Nation Council, saying that she is misinformed about housing issues on the Navajo Reservation.

Meanwhile, NHA last week received a letter from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development threatening to take back $103 million in Indian Housing Block Grant funds that were supposed to be spent last year.

The NHA's press release sharply attacked Katherine Benally, who represents Dennehotso, Chilchinbeto and Kayenta in the Council. Benally last week accused NHA officials of making excuses in the controversy over the housing authority's having $400 million in the bank.

"(Her) statements demonstrate that she is not only grossly misinformed but she exaggerates the information and is out of touch on the current activities in Indian housing," said the NHA statement.

Benally, who is chairperson of the Resources and Development Committee, has been extremely critical of the housing authority in recent months both in public statements and in her role as a Council delegate, saying that NHA officials need to address concerns not only of the tribal government but of members of the tribe who have been trying without success to get decent public housing.

The NHA statement said housing officials have tried without success "to create a trusting relationship with her and the Resources and Development Committee."

"Benally's behavior is inconsistent," NHA officials say. "One day, she praises and thanks NHA and the next day she is making damaging statements about NHA that is not only a blow to our image and public perception but also jeopardizes the major advances NHA has made in the halls of Congress."

At the center of this disagreement are the stories that have appeared in the media in recent months over a letter from the U.S. Department of Urban Development questioning why NHA has some $400 million just sitting in the bank when it should be used to build new homes.

Benally has been asking questions of her own along the same line and NHA officials have responded, both in letters to HUD and in meetings with the press, that the large sums of money in the bank stemmed from a three-year moratorium on spending imposed on NHA back in 2007 in light of charges being filed against a former director of the agency, Chester Carl.

They have also pointed out that since the moratorium was lifted, housing projects have been approved throughout the reservation which will reduce the amount of money NHA has in the bank significantly over the next year.

In its latest letter, dated July 31, HUD wasn't buying it. HUD Assistant Secretary Sandra B. Henriquez wrote that NHA has not sufficiently explained the lack of expenditures and "may be in substantial non-compliance" with IHBG requirements. Henriquez then states the $103 million in unspent 2012 funds will be terminated unless NHA requests a meeting with area HUD officials and is able to convince them otherwise.

Meanwhile, NHA remains in the Resource Committee's bad graces over meetings held recently by the General Accounting Office on the reservation as part of the agency's investigation into NHA practices. Benally questioned why these meetings were closed to the press.

NHA officials said that the decision to close the meetings was done by the GAO and not by the housing authority.

NHA also used the release to explain that the current investigation by the GAO includes other housing projects within Indian Country and not just the Navajo agency.

The issues now faced by NHA, the release stated, are not exclusive to the Navajo Nation but are faced "nation-wide."