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
Arizona Republic reporters Craig Harris and Dennis Wagner and photographer Michael Chow have received the Society of Professional Journalists’ New America Award for their coverage of the Navajo Nation’s housing crisis.
The New America Award honors coverage focused on immigrant or ethnic communities in the United .
Their series, “To Build a Home: The Navajo Housing Tragedy,” was published in late 2016 and shed light on nearly two decades of mismanagement of federal housing funds by the tribal housing authority. The northern Arizona reservation’s dire housing needs remain largely unmet.
“The team that shed the light on the Navajo housing system was driven by knowing tens of thousands of families live in poverty and substandard housing,” said Nicole Carroll, editor and vice president/news at The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. “The tragedy here isn’t just that people are suffering, but that their suffering is needless. Hundreds of millions of dollars meant to help them haven’t – yet. We’re humbled to win this award and hope our team’s work can continue to help serve others.”
The newspaper’s investigation discovered the Navajo Nation had received $1.66 billion in federal funding since 1998, but more than $100 million of that was spent on failed housing projects while the housing authority at one point accrued a funding surplus of nearly a quarter billion dollars.
Meanwhile, an estimated 34,000 homes needed to be built to address the housing shortage, but only 543 homes were built over eight years.
“In journalism, we are often taught to ‘follow the money,’ but when it comes to the Navajo housing tragedy this trail can lead to nowhere,” the judges’ comments said. “This important series shows how journalism has a direct impact on the citizenry it serves and how it can bring about direct change.”
Since the series was published, tribal leaders have moved to replace the housing agency’s board of commissioners and some agency officials.
Two weeks ago, U.S. Sen. John McCain released an investigative report in conjunction with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. It confirmed most of The Republic‘s findings and called for sweeping reforms to protect federal funds and provide adequate homes for tribal members.
Harris, Wagner and Chow will be honored Sept. 9 during SPJ’s 2017 Excellence in Journalism Conference in Anaheim, California.
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