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Neighborhood brings new homes, new careers

EVERSON, Wash. - A neighborhood of 12 pretty town homes in this rural area of Whatcom County represents more than new housing opportunities for Nooksack tribal members. For about 16 Nooksacks, building the townhomes meant an opportunity to learn new skills leading to careers in construction.

"These town houses were built by Nooksack Indian tribe members for Nooksack Indian families," said Jeff Hertz, director of the Nooksack Housing Authority. "This is an excellent example of federal grant funding being used to its fullest extent to meet the employment and housing needs of the Nooksack people."

For Clayton Roberts, the town homes gave him a chance to return home and to further develop his construction skills. A Nooksack, he was raised in Deming but lived for awhile in Bellingham.

Roberts had worked in construction for about 12 months when he was hired to help build the town homes in June 2003. He said he is related to six families in the new neighborhood.

Mike Grummel, project superintendent, said construction industry apprentices earn between $10 and $16 an hour. Grummel said Nooksack is developing a similar apprenticeship program with the Lummi Indian Nation.

Jobs are scarce in this part of Whatcom County. Many Nooksacks work for the tribal government, the Nooksack River Casino or area lumberyards. Tribal enterprises include the casino and the Nooksack Market Centre in Deming.

Home construction, however, is booming. More people are building homes amid the scenic rural beauty of eastern Whatcom County and commuting to jobs in Bellingham and Mount Vernon.

Nooksacks expanding in region

The Nooksack Indian tribe is headquartered 17 miles east of Bellingham near the town of Deming. The tribe was recognized in 1973 and has a total enrollment of 1,658 and a total land base of 284.53 acres - almost six people per acre. Nooksack has expanded its land base by acquiring non-tribal land, like the townhouse site, and converting it to tribal trust land.

"The Nooksack Indian Tribe is a growing organization that is progressively taking steps to provide for the needs of our people," Nooksack Chairman Narcisco Cunanan said in a press release. "We share in the region's vision for a great quality of life while, at the same time, striving to maintain our culture and protect our sovereignty."

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The town houses are located on Mission Road in Everson, near Deming. They were built by the Nooksack Tribal Works Department using funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The two-story units are 1,152 square feet each, with two bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms.

"The maximum rental charge on the town homes will be $650 per month, which can be adjusted downward based on each tenant's income and [Nooksack Housing Authority] program guidelines," Hertz said.

The town houses are next to Nooksack's Suchanon Housing Site, a neighborhood of 40 mutual-help homes, three, four and five-bedroom in size.

Other Nooksack housing developments:

*Five Cedars, a Deming neighborhood of 30 mutual-help homes, three and four-bedroom in size.

*Five Cedars also has seven two-bedroom homes that are rentals for elders and those with physical challenges.

*Rutsatz Housing Site, a Deming neighborhood of 27 mutual-help homes, two, three and four-bedroom in size.

*17 homes in several locations in Whatcom County.

Nooksack celebrated the grand opening of the town houses on Feb. 6, followed by tours of the units and a reception at the Nooksack Community Center.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at