A long-simmering conflict has come to a head with the sacking of the entire board of the Navajo Housing Authority, the nation’s largest Indian housing authority.
The Navajo Nation Council voted April 20 to fire the board, but President Russell Begaye signed the legislation to remove the Navajo Housing Authority on Saturday.
The Council voted in January to restructure the board from its current eight members down to five. According to news reports, up to 40 people have already been interviewed for the potential new positions.
Begaye and some Council members recently wrote to the board, asking for their resignations. According to azcentral.com, board members refused, causing the council to take its latest action.
The Navajo Housing Authority has faced criticism in recent years for not spending allocations of housing money from the federal government, despite great housing need on the Navajo Nation, which extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The council measure said the Navajo Housing Authority had completed just 26 homes in 2016, and Council members also charged NHA with wasteful spending and a lack of proper management.
Navajo Housing Authority CEO Aneva Yazzie recently wrote an azcentral.com opinion piece, admitting the agency faces challenges but defending its record since she took over in 2007.
A delegation from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development came out to the Navajo recently on a fact-finding mission, and Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, recently wrote a scathing opinion piece on the situation.
Navajo Housing Authority receives the largest allocation of money of any IHA from HUD under NAHASDA (the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act). In recent years this allocation has been around $80 million per year. NHA (and other tribal housing entities) have been rapped for not spending housing money, and NHA last year saw HUD attempt to “claw back” unspent money to the federal government.
McCain, a powerful member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, wrote in an op-ed published by azcentral.com that NHA has received $1.6 billion in housing assistance from the federal government since 1996.
“Apparently, the NHA has squandered much of the assistance it has received from U.S. taxpayers,” McCain wrote. He noted that 758 homes were constructed during a ten-year period where the Navajo Housing Authority received $800 million.
“This equates to 75 homes built each year at a cost of 1 million per home,” he said. And he said “By some estimates, this sparsely-populated region of the Four Corners desperately needs 30,000 new homes.”
He is asking the Senate committee to investigate NHA’s payroll of 360 people, saying the agency looks more like a jobs program than a housing program.
McCain noted the Navajo Housing Authority is defending its record, but wrote “A 2007 investigation by the HUD inspector general found that NHA repeatedly allowed price-gouging and excessive construction delays. Moreover, a 2014 audit by the Government Accountability Office identified more than $100 million in wasteful housing projects, including a development that was never occupied and was later demolished after falling into disrepair.”
He also noted HUD’s suit to claw back $93 million in unspent money from the agency.
ICMN will have more on this tomorrow.