Federal report confirms barriers to housing development across Indian Country

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Navajo Housing Authority
CONTACT: Christian Bigwater, Public Relations Coordinator
Office – (928) 871-2614
Cell – (928) 221-4205

For Immediate Release

Federal report confirms barriers to housing development across Indian Country

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – A recently released March 27, 2014 U.S. Government Accountability Office report on barriers to housing development in Indian Country explains how land use regulations, federal regulations, unique special situations on Navajo, and other challenges impact NHA’s mission of carrying out affordable housing activities.

The 57-page report, “NATIVE AMERICAN HOUSING: Additional Actions Needed to Better Support Tribal Efforts,” began last March as a result of House Conference Report 112-284 which mandated “that GAO study tribal housing challenges. Building on past work that raised discussion about some challenges.” The report examined common housing challenges tribes face and actions that could address them.

For one year, the GAO looked at testimonies by HUD and tribal representatives, studies by nonprofit housing and tribal advocacy organizations, a report by federal agencies working to improve water and sanitation access on tribal lands, prior GAO reports, and other relevant sources, including budget data. They interviewed HUD staff and four other federal agencies, the National American Indian Housing Council, 23 tribes, and an onsite visits with the NHA and the Hopi tribe.

“The report confirms what we have been saying all along to members of Congress, HUD, and even the Council,” said Aneva J. Yazzie, the Chief Executive Officer of Navajo Housing Authority. “Hopefully, this comprehensive independent federal report vindicates our board and our leadership on challenges we face for timely housing development on trust land. The report was very thorough.”

Last August, three staff members from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a one-week fact-finding visit to the Navajo Nation.

The report concluded that NHA faced nearly all of the challenges, “Those challenges were largely related to remoteness and other geographical factors, land use regulations, lack of adequate infrastructure, differing federal agency requirements, potential reduction in training opportunities and program support, limited administrative capacity, conflict within tribes, and cultural factors. Some IHBG recipients, such as the Navajo Housing Authority (NHA), faced a combination of these challenges.” (p 10, paragraph 1)

“We have always explained that it is difficult in acquiring land sites for housing development on federal trust lands,” said Yazzie. “The report confirmed these challenges as different federal laws are triggered for compliance that include HUD, OMB, Health and Human Services (I.H.S.), Interior (BIA), EPA, Labor, and others if leveraging funds.”

“The legal restrictions associated with trust lands have acted as an impediment to individuals seeking a mortgage and to lending institutions that might otherwise promote homeownership to Indian tribes—a challenge that affects both market-rate and affordable housing. In a February 2010 report, we found that banks were reluctant to do business on tribal lands because of cumbersome procedures, such as BIA’s process of issuing land title or trust status reports for mortgages involving trust lands (p15, paragraph 1).

“NHA cannot begin development in a community without the buy-in of the relevant chapter.” (p 50)

“According to an NHA official, even with fee simple land, a development within the Navajo Nation could take up to 5 years, in part because there were nearly 10 departments needing to sign off before a project could get off the ground. With other types of land, the official said that development could take 7 to 10 years.” (p. 45)

Yazzie said NHA has also spent time educating Congress and federal agencies including HUD about how the sheer size of the Navajo Nation puts the organization in a situation that no other organization has to deal with – an anomaly. “Given the size of the reservation, the unavailability of land to develop housing appeared to be unique.” (p 45, para 1)

The report also confirmed that while most tribes experienced some challenges, NHA experienced all the challenges.

“NHA’s housing challenges cannot be generalized to all IHBG recipients but some challenges appear to be similar to those that other tribes and TDHEs we interviewed experienced. However, unlike many tribes and TDHEs that experienced one or more similar challenges, NHA experienced them all. These challenges included the remote setting of some communities and related poor socioeconomic conditions, differing requirements for federal agencies, and internal administrative difficulties.” (p 42, para 1)

“The Navajo Nation has made strides to address some of these issues outlined in the report," said Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly. “For example, we have streamlined the approval process, we have engaged in discussions to seek solutions, and with NHA's assistance our Navajo Land Department is updating their land database system. We are quite serious about addressing these challenges.”

Yazzie said one of the difficulties in housing development is finding available land to develop. “Along with our community master planning efforts, NHA has been advancing in developing new technologies to help chapters determine suitable locations for housing and economic development.”

The report also acknowledged the 91-unit Shiprock housing project as a unique challenge, “NHA also experienced challenges that appeared to be unique to the Navajo Nation’s size and structure.”

The report on SSHI further stated: “After HUD found that the general contractor for the project failed to follow appropriate building codes and other requirements, the project was discontinued and the homes have remained unoccupied and at various stages of completion for almost a decade…NHA cannot plan any new development on the site before determining whether the land withdrawal process for the initial development has been carried out appropriately.” (p 51)

Despite the significant challenges, NHA was making progress GAO report concluded.  “ONAP (HUD Office Native American Programs) stated that NHA’s current management had been doing better planning and noted that it had taken some time for organizational changes to be implemented. ONAP further acknowledged that NHA had a difficult task in working with the Navajo Nation’s many chapters to pursue new development” (p 44)

The report is available on the NHA website at www.hooghan.org

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Quote from Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly can be confirmed by Rick Abasta, Communications Director, Office of President and Vice-President at (928) 871-7000.

 

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