Navajo housing agency charts construction for 2018
By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
Jul. 20, 2017
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The largest American Indian public housing authority in the U.S. is asking the federal government for more than $100 million in grant funding for 2018, saying it's on track to complete 81 new homes and other projects over the next year.
Officials with the Navajo Housing Authority have submitted their latest plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as they continue rebuilding the tribal agency in the face of criticism over management and the spending of federal grant money as the need for housing on the vast reservation persists.
The Navajo Nation spans more than 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) in parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah and some experts have estimated that as many as 50,000 new units would have to be built to meet demands.
Under the annual plan, the requested money would be divided among new construction of homes and rental units, maintenance and modernization of the thousands of existing homes on the housing authority's rolls, and public projects such as day care centers.
Navajo lawmakers and others told members of the housing authority board during a meeting Thursday about the needs in their communities and talked about the effects the housing deficit has on attracting teachers, police officers and other professionals to the Navajo Nation.
Board member Frankie Lee said he has visited some communities and has seen problems, from engineering challenges to concerns about asbestos and the prevalence of insects and rodents.
"The housing needs are dire," Lee said, pointing to members of his own family who have been unable to find homes on the Navajo Nation. "We need to have new ideas and new approaches to maximizing the money we're getting."
The housing plan submitted this week for the upcoming fiscal year calls for more than $8 million to be spent on new home construction while another $41 million would pay for maintenance as well as modernization projects for existing homes, such as new roofs or plumping and electrical upgrades.
More than $11 million would go to the construction of rental housing, $12.5 million would be spent on community projects and $14.3 million would be used for planning and administration.
In recent months, Navajo officials have defended themselves against accusations that the housing authority had previously overspent millions of dollars in grant funds. The allegations spurred a congressional investigation, but federal regulators have found no evidence of fraud or other criminal conduct.
According to the findings of an investigation earlier this year by U.S. Sen. John McCain's office and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the housing authority over 10 years received more than $803 million in federal block grant funding and built only 1,110 homes.
The new board members and others with the housing authority have disputed some of the allegations, noting that the funding was not only for new homes as the calculations suggested. They said the money also covered ongoing projects, the modernization of nearly 880 older homes over a four-year period along with infrastructure projects, land acquisitions, maintenance of existing homes and rentals and the construction of group homes and other community resource centers.
Despite demands from some Navajo leaders and community members for new housing, the authority has acknowledged that it cannot use all of the annual grant for such work. Federal rules call for part of the funding to go toward the maintenance and operation of certain existing homes.