WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – After nearly four weeks at the helm of Navajo Housing Authority (NHA), the newly appointed Board of Commissioners have decided to provide the public with their initial findings about NHA. This announcement will be followed by another announcement next week.
“When we first got on board, we were provided a lot of negative, one-sided information about the NHA organization,” said Board Chairman Kris Beecher, Vice Chairwoman Derrith Watchman-Moore, and Secretary/Treasurer Sean McCabe.
“But having been here for four weeks, we’re now finding out that a lot of information has been exaggerated and misinterpreted about NHA. And we want to clarify some of that misinformation,” they said.
The Board said they have had several formal and informal meetings with NHA staff, and they have been intently listening, and vigorously questioning NHA management. They have looked at key reports and documents submitted to HUD and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, such as the recent HUD Draft Monitoring Report and the 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report. “Throughout our review, we have applied our knowledge of Federal regulations and processes as it pertains to federal funds and tribal lands,” they said. “We have had enough time to make observations and discuss solutions.”
“Most certainly, there are inaccuracies that the Arizona Republic reported that were repeated in national news media which led the Navajo Nation Council to pass legislation based on information from these media stories,” the Board said. “Let us be clear, however, there are things they got right, but there are also things they got very wrong.”
In one example, the Arizona Republic newspaper wrote in a March 22, 2017 story, that NHA spent $54.9 million in fiscal year 2016 to modernize just 50 houses at a cost of almost $1.1 million per dwelling. But the Republic story left out key facts, such as NHA was also in the process of modernizing another 332 homes that were between 50 to 90 percent complete. The story also claimed that new housing construction was costing $750,000 per unit, again ignoring the included cost for houses that were well on the way to completion but not yet completed.
“There is no way NHA could or would build $1.1 million homes,” the NHA Board said. “This inaccuracy was repeated again in a June 1 Republic story.” The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a limit on development costs, which if exceeded would trigger an inquiry. “If this narrative were even slightly true, it would have triggered HUD to investigate and then sanction NHA,” they said. But in a draft report released to NHA on June 1, 2017, HUD found no violations.
Then in a report issued by the honorable Senator John McCain, the report said that NHA had spent $125 million on the Houck, Ariz. Bluestone development project to date, when only $10.3 million has been spent.
“However, interviews with NHA staff indicate that the agency’s investment into the project has since ballooned to roughly $125 million over the past five years.” (Investigation of Mismanagement of Federal Housing Funding by the Navajo Housing Authority, Office of Senator John McCain, June 1, 2017))
“This was also wrong and it was repeated by the Republic in a news story,” they said. NHA financial records show that the organization has only spent $10.3 million on the project to date. There are many other inaccuracies being compiled by NHA staff.
“We have also discovered that these inaccuracies in media reports and legislative actions are attributed to Federal reporting forms that are not consumer-friendly, and limit grant recipients from providing a full picture of their activities during the year. These forms can easily be misread and misinterpreted – this is the case in the McCain report. These federal forms are what is called an Annual Performance Report, and housing authorities are required to complete these reports at the end of each year. Anyone that works in a government agency knows the limitations of most federal forms.” A Feb. 2010 GAO report notes this limitation.
The Board continued, “Further changes are coming. In the coming days we will be making hard and difficult decisions. Meanwhile, to correct much of this misinformation, we have directed the CEO and management to develop a consumer-friendly report that explains housing development activities. We are also looking to live stream all Board meetings so the public can watch Board proceedings. And there’s more to come.”
“We acknowledge the Navajo people and we want to emphasize transparency and accountability. We are working to that end. Meanwhile, we ask that the public and our leadership to be patient as we go through these difficult and trying times. And let us be clear: today’s statement does not in any way say that NHA has made no mistakes at any time in the past or that there are no issues. NHA must take responsibility for many of the things that have gone wrong in the past. But not addressing these damaging inaccuracies now would only further the spread of misinformation and hinder the truth. It is our fiduciary duty to set the record straight and put an end to the domino effect it has created,” they said.
About the NHA Board of Commissioners
Kris Beecher, Chairman, is representative for tenant and home buyers. He holds a degree in Political Science, from Arizona State University and is originally from Tuba City, Arizona. He will be a second year law student this fall at ASU.
“As a member of the Navajo Nation Bar Association, a student of law, a former business manager and owner, having many years of manufacturing, and housing management experience, I too have approached my duties here in the same vein. I am looking at transparency and communication, and ensuring that an organization is upholding the business practices and culture that fosters effectiveness and efficiency.”
Derrith Watchman-Moore, Vice-Chairman is a former HUD and EPA official, and holds a Master in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix. Watchman-Moore fills the position of the business management professional.
“As a former HUD and EPA official, I certainly know a lot about Federal monitoring and compliance. I have participated in high-level discussions about performance issues of public housing or federal grantee performance issues. Any enforcement action requires careful review of the facts and accuracy in data interpretations. It was my job to enforce compliance with Federal regulations. I am approaching NHA with the same perspective and reviewed the latest HUD program monitoring report done in FY 2016 that shows only one finding for lack of efficient operation of 1937 act units. To be the largest Indian housing authority with one finding is a good indication that internal controls are maintained. Granted, the program does need improvement but when you compare NHA with other large public housing authorities, NHA is doing good.”
Sean McCabe, Secretary/Treasurer fills the Board position of Certified Public Accountant. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts in accounting from Fort Lewis College and is a CPA within the states of Arizona and New Mexico.
“As a CPA I look at documents through the lens of accounting and auditing. Having spent my career conducting all types of audits, I have gained significant experience in reviewing Federal government awards. I have reviewed recent and past audit reports by HUD and the independent auditors. From this I can tell the difference between a thorough audit and one done in haste. From this perspective, it appears NHA has done great work as depicted in its latest fiscal audit done in 2015 and is even supported by a recent draft HUD Monitoring Report.
# # #