The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development visits the Navajo Housing Authority to determine if federal housing funds have been properly spent on the Arizona reservation.
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The Navajo Housing Authority spent nearly $12 million to build 91 new homes. All but one later were torn down, prompting a financial settlement with federal housing officials. Michael Chow/azcentral.com
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Federal housing funds for Navajos pile up and are squandered while residents of the reservation still suffer from inadequate shelter. Michael Chow/azcentral.com
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Former Navajo Housing Authority head Chester Carl, who was acquitted of bribery and conspiracy charges, talks about the allegations. Michael Chow/azcentral.com
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Members of Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation say the tribal housing authority pays careful attention to the housing needs of its citizens. Michael Chow/azcentral.com
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Navajo housing review by HUD
90 new homes in Shiprock torn down
Navajo housing funds pile up, are squandered
Former NHA chief: Not bribery, just helping a friend
How the Cherokee Nation spends its federal housing funds
Congress and HUD also scrutinize Navajo Housing Authority for alleged mismanagement of federal tax dollars
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye is poised to sign emergency legislation passed last week that would remove and replace the tribal housing agency’s board of commissioners.
After the measure passed on a 16-4 vote of the Navajo Nation Council, Begaye said, “Many of our people live in dilapidated homes or have taken refuge living in mobile storage units. Because of the housing situation, they are subject to conditions that no one should live in. This must be changed.”
The emergency bill passed Friday after most board members of the troubled Navajo Housing Authority refused demands to step down, and instead issued a letter defending their agency and criticizing Begaye.
The authority, known as the NHA, is the largest housing agency in Indian country and receives more tax dollars than any other.
It has become a focal point of criticism for two decades of botched projects, mismanagement and a swollen trove of unspent funds that at one point hit nearly a half-billion dollars. NHA failures were spelled out late last year in an Arizona Republic investigative series.
According to one study, the tribe desperately needs 34,000 new homes and an equal number of refurbishments. Yet, despite receiving $1.66 billion in federal funds since 1998, the NHA has produced fewer than 100 dwellings per year over the past decade.
Department of Housing and Urban Development employees visited the reservation in March to investigate.
Over the weekend, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sharply criticized the tribal housing agency and announced he is seeking an investigation of NHA spending by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, of which he is a member.
“Between 2007 and 2016, the NHA received $800 million in HUD Indian Housing block grants,” McCain wrote in an op-ed piece for The Republic. “However, reports indicate that a meager 758 residences were constructed during that 10-year period. This equates to 75 homes built each year at $1 million per home …
“Given its dismal and negligent track record, one could conclude that NHA operates less like a housing program and more like a jobs program. One thing is clear: the Navajo people are being robbed of their precious housing grants along with their dreams of affordable home ownership.”
Meanwhile, negative publicity churned a political uproar within the Navajo Nation, which sprawls over an area nearly the size of West Virginia.
In February, the Navajo Nation Council adopted a law designed to replace the eight-member board with five commissioners within 120 days. New members will be required to have professional credentials and qualifications.
But last week, Begaye and other leaders sought to speed up the process, issuing a call for the immediate “resignation or removal” of NHA’s officers due to “reckless displays and wasteful misappropriations.”
Six of the eight commissioners responded, decrying Begaye’s call as “out of line, outrageous and simply wrong.”
The tribal council then adopted an emergency resolution to replace the NHA board immediately upon Begaye’s signature. That measure notes congressional concerns and says new leadership is imperative “to avoid the loss of federal funding for homes for Navajo people.”
Mihio Manus, a spokesman for Begaye, said Tuesday he was unsure whether the president had signed the resolution. He said about 40 people applied to serve as NHA commissioners, and at least three selections have been made so far. Once all five are chosen, he added, “They will be replacing the (existing) board.”
Meanwhile, current NHA Chairman Ervin Chavez issued a statement of disappointment about the emergency measure, saying, “It is a shame that politics, rather than common sense, has driven this effort from the Council.”
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