Navajo homeownership made easier

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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - A private builder in Arizona has made home ownership for
American Indians easier by coupling private funds with federal funding, and
he would like to expand his projects west toward Flagstaff.

Karigan Estates, built in St. Michaels near the New Mexico border, is on a
parcel of nonreservation land purchased in 1994 by the Navajo Nation's
division of economic development. With 55 homes built and 96 under way,
home and land ownership opportunities for Navajos in the area are becoming
a reality, said Jim Pullaro, sales manager for the development.

"It's just trying to bring home ownership and all the benefits to the
Native Americans," Pullaro said. "They are immensely better off than
renting."

This project is set apart from other federally funded programs because it
offers housing opportunities to middle- and upper-income families near the
reservation, rather than rental housing for low-income American Indians,
Pullaro said.

By coupling funds from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
mortgage loan program that is designed specifically for American Indians
with the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act, which is used
for ground acquisition and infrastructure costs, Pullaro is able to develop
four-to six-bedroom homes of 1,500 to 2,300 square feet for $160,000 to
$220,000.

A similar development in a community like Tuba City, where many families
live with substandard housing, could result in significant infrastructure
improvements and a boost in the quality of life. Most of these homes are
geared toward families that earn at least $25,000 annually, he said. The
median household income in Tuba City is about $38,500, according to 2000
Census Bureau data.

The key to the project's success is in establishing partnerships with
developers, lenders and federal funding programs, according to an official
with HUD who oversees American Indian housing programs nationwide,

"The challenge is a function of getting land in trust through the Bureau of
Indian Affairs and having lenders cooperate," said the HUD official, who
cannot be identified because of department policies. When a private
developer steps in, lenders are more willing to cooperate, he said.

While not every family can benefit from the program, a significant number
of Navajos living closer to Flagstaff would qualify; and Pullaro is
interested in heading it up, he said. With his partnership, the HUD program
and some pre-secured construction loans from National Bank of Flagstaff,
Pullaro said he'd be willing to build a neighborhood similar to Karigan
Estates in Coconino County.

Pullaro has been enlisted by HUD officials and Navajo tribal leaders to do
a second project for the Navajo Nation in the northeastern part of the
state on a parcel not yet identified, Pullaro said. Something in Tuba City
also could be a possibility if approved by the Navajo Nation, he said.

Development discussions with the Hopi tribal officials also are expected in
the coming weeks, and other neighborhoods are being planned for southern
portions of Arizona, he added.

"They haven't looked at any ground close to Flagstaff yet, but there's no
reason we can't do something with the Hopi people," Pullaro said.

Although Pullaro prefers to build on privately held land because it's more
beneficial to the individual homeowner, he said he'd consider a project on
reservation land if that's what the tribes decide, or have available.

"I am told that the program works on trust ground and it works on fee
ground," Pullaro said.

Of the 2,300 outstanding HUD loans in this program, 35 percent are on
reservation land, according to the HUD office in Washington, D.C. The
biggest difference would be that homeowners on a tribal lease would be
required to sell back the property through the tribal council, which could
require the purchaser to be a tribal member. Karigan Estate homes are
initially sold to a family with at least one member being Navajo, but they
can be resold to anyone.

MORE ON THE HUD PROGRAM

The federally funded HUD 184 program is designed for American Indian home
ownership by offering mortgage loans based on income. The developments can
be done on private or reservation land.

An Arizona developer coupled HUD loans with other federal funds to acquire
land in St. Michaels - a privately held area on the Navajo Nation - and
build infrastructure and single-family homes that range from $160,000 to
$220,000. American Indians with an annual income greater than $25,000 can
qualify.

The developer is interested in building closer to Flagstaff, and with the
median area income in Tuba City at about $38,500 many residents in the
community could afford a home. But it's up to Navajo and Hopi tribal
officials to determine parcels of land that could be used.

Copyright (c) 2005, The Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff. Distributed by Knight
Ridder/Tribune Business News.