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Tsigo Bugeh Village Shows How to Stretch Housing Money

SAN JUAN PUEBLO, N.M. - A rental project recently recognized as a model of
how American Indian housing can stretch scarce federal assistance dollars
has been completed and leased.

An investment by the pueblo of more than $1 million generated more than $3
million in outside funding for Tsigo Bugeh, a 40-unit attached development
that is also getting recognition for a design that obliterates the boxy
"HUD home" design in favor of something more culturally relevant.

"We knew San Juan needed more housing," said Tomasita Duran, director of
the pueblo's Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority. But San Juan's federal
housing funding under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self
Determination Act block grant was just $715,000 per year. "I knew we could
not develop the units we needed with that amount of money," she said.

So in 1999 Duran began networking with regional and national Indian trade
groups, looking for other funding sources. When she met Deborah Webster of
the Enterprise Foundation, she made the right connection.

With Enterprise's help, the pueblo (located north and west of Santa Fe) in
2000 started a plan to get Low Income Housing Tax Credits for a housing
project on the pueblo. The initial design was done by Jamie Blosser of
Jonathan Rose Cos. who won an architectural fellowship sponsored by
Enterprise and who had previous experience working on projects at the Zuni
and Acoma pueblos in New Mexico.

Blosser said she "wanted to get away from the single-family HUD tract home"
and design something closer in spirit to the housing in the old pueblo,
about half a mile distant from the project.

The project as constructed, with input from the pueblo community, was
multi-family, two story, and with plazas oriented east-west or to the
equinox. There are nine buildings, each with four or five attached units.
The one- to four-bedroom units range in size from 700 to 1,300 square feet.

Tribal members listened at community meetings to elders who remembered the
extended-family feeling that came from living close together in the old
pueblo, Duran said.

Other design features include traditional hornos, colors that relate to the
summer and winter clans, earth colors, and passive solar features. Open
floor plans were used to provide communal space for events like feast days.

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The Tsigo Bugeh Village project won an award of $3 million in tax credits
for the 2001 round. It then won a $310,000 HOME award, the first time HOME
money was used for tribal housing in the state. They also received a
$310,000 Affordable Housing Program grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank
of Dallas

Total development costs were $3.8 million, according to Blosser, with
another $800,000 spent on site work. Of the total financing of $4.6 million
(which includes a small, $180,000 loan), the tribe put up $1.1 million,
meaning it brought in $3.5 million of outside money into the project, a
leveraging ratio of more than three to one.

The housing authority was the developer for the project, while the National
Development Corp. Equity Fund was the equity investor in the tax credits.

Of the 40 units constructed, nine are market-rate units, while 31 have gone
to people with incomes of between 40 and 60 percent of the Rio Arriba
County median, which is about $32,000 for a family of four, said Duran.

The tribal Realty Department helped convince families to give up the
single-family structures they were used to, said Duran, since the typical
100 x 100 foot lot assignment was putting a burden on the small tribal land
base. Some incentives were also offered.

The project was still a tough sell, since it represented a totally new way
of looking at housing on the reservation. San Juan had never developed
rental units, two story units, or LIHTC units before, Duran said.

Construction took a year, and the units were move-in ready by August of
last year. Thirty-eight of the units were leased by Dec. 31, and the other
two are now filled, Duran said.

Rents range from $170 to $475 per month, depending on size.

The initial community feeling has been marred by some tenants who haven't
abided by the rules, but Duran said OOHA has been strict in enforcement,
hiring security and enforcing zero tolerance.

On the plus side, a tenants' organization has been formed, there are some
community services offered in the Tsigo Bugeh community center, and "lots
of parties" have been held there so far, said Duran. The center offers a
computer room, exercise room, and a pool table, among other things.