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A Very Long Time Between Housing Projects at San Felipe

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The first big housing project to be built in 40 years on the San Felipe Pueblo in Sandoval County, New Mexico has just seen its first 28 families move in.

A ribbon cutting was held on August 17 for the 28 modular units located in the reservation’s Black Mesa View subdivision. An additional 12 units of stickbuilt homes—meaning built onsite with wood—are planned to complete Phase 1.

In all, 150 housing units are planned, including 135 single-family homes and 15 multifamily units for elder housing on the pueblo, which is located less than 30 miles north of Albuquerque and currently has more than 3,400 tribal members. Six housing units covering 11 acres of the 100-acre site are slated for retail stores to generate jobs and services for residents.

Key to the successful completion of the new housing units was a $2.8 million loan from Bank of America, which was used for construction and infrastructure costs.

Isaac Perez, executive director of the San Felipe Pueblo Housing Authority (SFPHA), told attendees of the biennial New Mexico Housing Summit, held August 22-24 in Albuquerque, that Black Mesa View is the first housing project built on the pueblo since the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) erected some homes in 1972.

The $2.8 million HUD Title VI loan by Bank of America was the first Title VI loan approved on New Mexico tribal land in more than a decade, members of a summit panel session said. (The purpose of the Title VI loan guarantee is to assist Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) recipients, or borrowers, who want to finance eligible affordable housing activities, but are unable to secure financing without the assistance of a federal guarantee.)

Other funding sources, according to Perez, include the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority—sponsor of the Housing Summit, federal stimulus money, Enterprise Community Partners and others.

The ambitious project has been in the planning stages since 2007, and it was designed not just to provide housing for tribal members but also jobs and economic development, Perez said.

The modular units were built right on the pueblo, and 54 of the workers—50 percent of the staff—were tribal members, Perez said.

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As an additional benefit to the tribe, a natural gas line was built to service the subdivision. It will allow another 314 homes on the reservation to have access to natural gas.

“The reservation never had natural gas before this project,” Perez said.

Total financing on the project to date is $5.6 million. Perez said he didn't know what the final cost will be. Bank of America was “the only lender we could find that would do a Title VI,” said Perez. “Even though it is 95 percent federally guaranteed, it was very hard to find a lender.” He shared a story about a bank he did not name that wanted the tribe to issue an additional 100 percent guarantee on top of the federal 95 percent guarantee.

The SFPHA applied for the loan in April 2010, and it closed this spring. Groundbreaking took place in September 2010.

The housing authority will additionally tap a second HUD lending program, the Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program, to provide individual mortgages in the project.

(The Section 184 Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program is a home mortgage specifically designed for American Indian and Alaska Native families, tribes or tribal housing entities—both on and off native lands—for new construction, rehabilitation, purchase of an existing home, or refinance.)

Some 170 tribal members have been qualified to live in the units, and there is a wait list of more than 300 families.

Perez said the housing assistance SFPHA gets from the federal government each year was “used as leverage for bigger pots of money.”

He told the session the tribal housing authority typically gets about $500,000 from HUD a year. After paying administrative expenses, about $300,000 is left. That allows it to build perhaps two new houses a year, plus do a couple of rehab jobs.

Perez said he hopes to get the 12 stickbuilt homes up in the next couple of months. Anticipated completion of the entire project has been pushed back a year to the end of 2014.