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Government programs improve housing at Jemez

PUEBLO OF JEMEZ, N.M. - Manuel Toya is a gracious, elderly man with a firm
handshake who welcomes visitors to his pueblo formally, and in English. He
stood on a street next to the ruins of his home, where desert rain got into
the adobe and caused it to crumble, bringing down a whole wall at once and
making the place uninhabitable.

But he also stood in the street next to his new home: a trim, new house
just adjacent to where the ruined one sits without a roof in the hot sun.
His son, Jake, translated into his native Towa for him, leaning close to
his ear to be heard as he was asked if he is comfortable in his new home.

He smiled and nodded as his granddaughter, Alicia, asked if she could watch
a movie inside. She had reluctantly agreed to pose for a picture with her
grandfather, part of a dramatic "before and after" story.

The Toyas' new house was built by the tribal department of housing, using
grant money from the BIA's Housing Improvement Program. BIA has a low
reputation in much of Indian country, but BIA HIP money builds a home a
year on the pueblo, about an hour's drive northwest of Albuquerque.

HIP is one component of government housing assistance or subsidy that is
starting to make a difference in Jemez, one home at a time. Nearly a dozen
homes have been financed used the Department of Housing and Urban
Development's Section 184 guaranteed Indian mortgage program, and another
half dozen using the Rural Housing Service Section 502 direct program.

All but two of the HUD 184s have been new constructions. The HUD 184s are
valuable for higher-income Indians, while the RHS 502, a direct loan from
the federal government, is meant for low- and very-low income people. The
average loan amount on HUD 184s has been about $120,000, according to the
pueblo's Department of Housing.

The scattered homes stand out as islands of decent housing amid the
trailers and ramshackle houses, some of them crumbling into ruins, which
ring the traditional pueblo with its big open plaza surrounded by homes
with ladders standing at the ready against them.

Unlike many of its neighbor pueblos, Jemez, which has a population of about
2,000, has no gaming. One in four families here lives in poverty, and the
per capita income is just $8,045. Unemployment runs at about 40 percent.
According to the Department of Housing, 549 families live in substandard
housing in the pueblo, with 420 housing units in immediate need of
rehabilitation.

According to Jemez Housing Director Dave Cade, about 200 families are on a
housing waiting list and the unmet need is nearly 300 rental or ownership
units. The department currently manages about 75 housing units, mostly old
Mutual Help units built under the 1937 Housing Act, and plans to convey
half of them to current residents in the upcoming year.

No conventional (private) mortgages have been done on Jemez, nor have any
Department of Veterans Affairs loans, the director said. Two loans were
made some years back through the Federal Housing Administration's Section
248 program.

Cade said the department currently is able to build three houses a year:
one through HIP money and the others through HUD tribal housing block
grants. Last year, Jemez was granted $619,000 through HUD.

Housing finance, once unknown at Jemez as in so many other parts of Indian
country, is starting to take hold here. There has even been a refinance, a
certain sign of mortgage sophistication. And lenders like Bank of America
and Wells Fargo are now open to taking the trip out to this beautiful spot
in the desert to look for business.

Elvira Duran, a loan originator for Bank of Albuquerque, was recently at
Jemez, where she has five or six pending applications as well as a total of
about 40 applications for HUD 184s throughout the pueblos. Also at the
pueblo was Patricia Navarette, the bank's community affairs manager.

Navarette praised the HUD 184 as a "flexible" loan with no mortgage
insurance requirement, but noted that it could take anywhere from three
months to a year to close one. This year, she said, the bank plans to do 10
HUD 184s on various pueblos.

And with two mixed rental-ownership subdivisions in the works, involving 42
lots in a first phase, there could be opportunity for dozens more mortgages
here over the next several years.