NHA: Woodstoves on way to Fuzzy Mountain

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Jan. 26, 2012

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(Times photo - Paul Natonabah)

Aneva Yazzie, CEO of Navajo Housing Authority, announced Wednesday that about 45 NHA units in Navajo, N.M., will receive woodstoves after residents complained about the cold, poorly insulated houses they live in.

Wood-burning stoves are coming to 45 Navajo Housing Authority public housing units on Poplar Avenue in Navajo, N.M.

After meeting Wednesday with 40 or so tenants at the Navajo Nation Museum, and hearing their appeals for woodstoves to keep warm in the poorly insulated NHA units they occupy, CEO Aneva Yazzie announced that woodstoves will be installed in the units.

"With respect to the new construction units, given my discussion with the staff yesterday and now that I have to immerse myself in the process, we will provide woodstoves," Yazzie said to the applause of the tenants.

"When I meet with my construction team, because of the size of the units, I found out the need for a secondary woodstove," Yazzie added.

On Jan. 13, an NHA spokesperson said that due to safety concerns, the agency was banning woodstoves in new and renovated public housing units across the Navajo Nation, including the units on Popular Avenue.

Although Yazzie did not give specific details of when the stoves would be installed, she did say the NHA Construction Services Department and Fleet and Facility Maintenance Office would work together to install them.

"Construction Services will work with Fleet and Facility Maintenance to determine how soon we can procure the woodstoves, and see if we have anything at this point in stock to expedite that," she said.

In addition to lifting the ban, Yazzie informed tenants that NHA would continue paying for their propane until the woodstoves are installed.

Last week, NHA contracted with Chief Propane of Kayenta, which hauled about 27,000 gallons of propane to fill the 250-gallon propane tanks at all 45 units of the subdivision.

Yazzie's decision could not have come at a better time for the tenants.

On Tuesday, most of them had already seen a decrease of about 10 percent in the propane in their tanks.

When Edward Begay and Velma Yazzie opened the door to their three-bedroom unit on Tuesday afternoon, the thermometer inside read a mere 53 degrees, close to 20 degrees under what most Americans consider comfortable.

Unlike prior weeks, where the couple and their children were huddling around two electric space heaters and wearing blankets and jackets to keep warm, they're now able to use the furnace to warm the unit to a comfortable 75 degrees, and look forward to using their woodstove once its installed.

"I'm really happy about the stoves," said Begay, who was recently diagnosed with slight pneumonia. "I would rather have fire in front of my kids, and talk about things like this. I'm glad we're going to have stoves."

It had been so cold in their unit that the couple was considering a move to NHS housing in nearby Sawmill, Ariz. Although 10 years old, those units have woodstoves.

Asked if they we're still going to relocate, Begay said no, "We're going to get ready to haul wood."

Over at the four-bedroom unit of Lawson and Sandra Nakai, the couple is using propane conservatively, even though it's currently being provided free of charge.

The Nakais had been paying about $100 every two weeks for 27.1 gallons of propane from Nations Gas Technologies.

"We're using the house heater," Lawson Nakai said Tuesday as he lifted the lid on the 250-gallon propane tank to check the level. "It's warm, but we want to stretch it out as long as we can. We still have a habit of wearing our jackets."

With Wednesday's news that a woodstove is coming, Lawson said he was happy NHA was able to understand the situation of the Fuzzy Mountain tenants.

"There's an understanding we will work together and that they're listening to our needs," Lawson Nakai said. "I want to thank NHA, the resident organization and the tenants for voicing their concerns. We as a group collaborating with NHA on our concerns can be done."

In a related development, Yazzie said propane reimbursements would not occur as originally promised. Instead, she said, "What we will do is, once we determine the allowance levels we will make those adjustments and make those retroactive during the cold season. We are looking at the utility allowances to make sure they are reasonable for what is designed for these units."

As for the earlier miscommunication between the local NHA office in Navajo and the tenants, Yazzie said accountability would occur at that office.

"I will hold the housing managers accountable accordingly," Yazzie said. "This will have to change and I pay managers to do that. We need to make sure the warranty and contractors are held accountable. I am charging that with construction services to follow up."

In the meantime, Yazzie said NHA will look at the engineering specifics of the houses, and if there are any insulation deficiencies, corrective measures would take place.

"They do meet the relevant codes, the Unified Building Codes, International Residential Codes, Electrical Codes and Plumbing Codes," Yazzie said. "This is one of the last designs that was administered before I came on and we wanted to see it through."

"I am hearing, I'm listening, I'm understanding, and I will have a follow up with staff accordingly," she said.

The plight of the 44 tenants would not have been heard if it were not for the efforts of the Fuzzy Mountain View Resident Organization, who had to bring the issue to light through local media before NHA started taking the tenants' struggles seriously.

"It's a relief," said an excited Golden Moore, president of the Fuzzy Mountain View Residents Organization. "From the CEO telling us, it's a big accomplishment. Not getting reimbursements is a downfall, but the reward is that we get woodstoves."

"I felt like it was a grassroots movement," added FMVRO treasurer Miranda Smith. "When people come together, we have a big voice. All it took was getting together."

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