NHA expenditure plan passes RDC

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, July 11, 2013

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D espite Navajo Housing Authority's 2014 Expenditure Plan consisting of what CEO Aneva Yazzie calls a "snapshot" of projects that date back to at least 2008, it passed the floor of the Resources and Development Committee Tuesday by a vote of 4-1.

With the approval by the committee, Yazzie now submits the expenditure report to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. The federal agency administers Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act housing block grants to NHA, the tribe's designated housing entity. The deadline to submit the spending plan to HUD is July 18 to fund housing projects under NHA's 2014 Indian Housing Plan.

"These are continuing projects in the 2014 Indian Housing Plan," Yazzie said, explaining that the projects total about $131 million.

According to Yazzie, the expenditure report basically gives HUD an idea of how tribes would spend money over a 12-month window, and administers block grant funding based on Congress's allocations to these annual spending plans.

An examination of NHA's 2014 expenditure plan projects tells that they are in various stages of development - pre-planning, planning, construction and close-out statuses - and are mostly continuing projects from past years.

At a work session with the RDC on Monday, Yazzie partly blamed HUD for the backlog of continuing projects, saying the change in policies from the Bush Administration to the current Obama Administration is the reason. She also added land acquisition to build homes in chapters as another reason for the delays, as well as the Aubrey-Carl fiasco, and a three-year moratorium placed on NHA by HUD as the reasons for the backlog of projects.

Yazzie took over the helm of NHA in 2007 after Chester Carl was forced to resign under charges he conspired with builder Bill Aubrey to skim federal housing funds. Carl was acquitted; Aubrey was convicted and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 7.

A change in accounting procedures from one Presidential administration to the next made it appear that NHA was hoarding $400 million when actually the funding from 2008 to 2011 was collapsed into one pot, according to Yazzie. And the warning letter from HUD issued to NHA in April that says NHA is non-compliant with NAHASDA regulations by not spending some $430 million in grant funds for 2012 is unfounded, Yazzie added.

A breakdown of the $131 million spending plan shows that $78.6 million would go toward NHA's Construction Services Division, $23.5 million to Housing Management Offices, $17.2 million to NHA's Grant Management Division and $12.3 million to NHA's administration.

Some of these projects that would be built by NHA's Construction Services Division include the modernization of 1937 HUD homes that would cost about $56.2 million in certain communities, pre-planning of new public housing units costing about $10.3 million, also in certain communities, and $6.7 million in model activities like the construction of NHA office buildings, among other projects.

Yazzie said about $17.2 million of the $131 million would go to private housing providers, who will either remodel 1937 Housing Act public rental units, build new rental housing, build new construction or homeownership units, construct emergency shelters and infrastructure or model activities.

NHA's Grant Management Division subsidizes private housing providers like the Southwest Indian Foundation, Indigenous Community Enterprise, Inc., Navajo Partnership for Housing and Tuba City Health Care Corporation, among others, with NAHASDA funds.

According to the spending plan, the Southwest Indian Foundation, for example, would be subsidized $2.3 million for new housing units and $2 million would go toward planning costs for new housing units in the former Bennett Freeze area.

At the meeting on Tuesday, Yazzie told the committee, "Every year you have a new Indian Housing Plan" that needs to be submitted for projects to be funded.

Following sponsor Russell Begaye's (Shiprock) and Yazzie's testimony of why the committee needs to pass the 2014 housing expenditure plan, Council delegate Leonard Tsosie offered his thoughts on the plan, saying that NHA uses private contractors like the defunct Fort Defiance Housing Corporation, now Sandstone Housing Corp., to hide information.

"All of these corporations are doing a crappy job and they're getting all this money," he said adding that he's confused as to why the defunct FHDC is no longer listed under the Grants Management Division projects while it was in the 2014 expenditure plan at the work session on Monday.

"You're trying to fund a bad corporation," he said. "NHA was trying to subsidize a bad corporation, and I don't see them on here."

Yazzie explained that FDHC was on the expenditure plan because the NHA had to officially close out some of its projects.

Tsosie also asked why most of the money under the spending plan is going toward planning and pre-planning of housing projects, and not construction of those projects. "If you're going to get planning money, then give it to chapters for their planning," he added.

In an effort to strengthen the bill to do "justice" for the Navajo people, Tsosie offered two amendments. "Can we change this to help families who literally lost their savings?" he quipped.

His amendments, however, failed each time because there was no second motion by his colleagues.

The amendments would have amended the spending plan by allocating $2 million to be set aside for planning and pre-planning for Navajo chapters which do not have "non-scattered housing units" built with HUD or NAHASDA funds. The other amendment would have allocated $1 million for a special master to investigate the now-defunct Fort Defiance Housing Corporation's bankruptcy while it was collecting on rent-to-own agreements with residents living at housing projects in Shiprock, Chilchinbeto and Church Rock.

As a result of his failed amendments, Tsosie called the bill an "injustice" to the Navajo people.

As for Committee Chair Katherine Benally, she asked Yazzie what NHA could do for the victims of the bankruptcy cases, about whom she and Tsosie had learned at a May 29 public hearing held in Shiprock.

"If you were there to listen, you would be pleading for a remedy with these people," she said to Yazzie. "How do we remedy this without this legal stuff?"

Benally equated the public rental money NHA receives to discretionary funds, which she says could possibly be used toward helping these victims.

The councilwoman, who represents Kayenta, Chilchinbeto, Dennehotso, also asked whether planning dollars could go toward chapters, seeing that most of the money under the 2014 expenditure plan is going toward preplanning or planning of projects.

In regards to the planning dollars, Yazzie said NHA's master plan already has planning funds available for chapters to use, which is largely dependent on whether chapters decide to adopt NHA's sustainable master plan at the chapter level.

And in regards to what Benally referred to as families with "broken hearts," Yazzie recommended a meeting with the property management firm, Sandstone Housing, and also recommended looking at the individual families because of their unique financing situations.

In response to how NHA is spending money, and a recent request for proposals on NHA's website indicating it's looking for a contractor to sell modular homes to the TDHE at various "infill lots," across the reservation, Benally issued a directive to Yazzie and NHA to focus their energy on building homes.

"Hooghan altsé (housing first)," she said in Navajo, referencing NHA's statistics of a housing need of 34,000 homes. "That's where our concentration should be."

The committee is scheduled to travel to Denver and meet with officials from HUD's Northern Plains Office of Native American Programs, which has oversight over NHA's NAHASDA funds, on Thursday.

Contact Alastair L. Bitsoi at 928-871-1141 or by email at abitsoi@gmail.com

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