Sen Heidi Heitkamp presents to the NAIHC

Sen Heidi Heitkamp presents to the NAIHC

WASHINGTON D.C. – Representatives from the Navajo Housing Authority’s board of commissioners and staff were in Washington, D.C. last week attending the annual Native American Indian Housing Council Conference.  An important part of the conference included scheduled visits with elected officials from various committees whose work impacts Indian Country as well as testimony in front of key congressional committees.

In addition to one-on-one meetings with more than seven congressional representatives, NHA prepared written testimony for two key committees: the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing (SCIAO) and the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs (SIIANA).

According to Aneva “AJ” Yazzie, NHA’s chief executive officer, the opportunity to share the Navajo Nation’s positioning on housing, economic development and infrastructure concerns with these important committees is critical to the success of NHA’s ongoing work.

“With a new administration and many new congressmen this session, it is important not only to the Navajo Housing Authority, but all of Indian Country, to raise awareness of the issues impacting housing on tribal lands and the role that these committees have in advancing the works that we are doing on reservation land.”

The written testimonies for both committees detailed the housing development challenges on the Navajo reservation due to the complexity of the Nation’s scale of operation, tribal land status and socio-economic conditions.

A key challenge to providing housing for the Navajo people is the lack of utility infrastructure. It increases costs, time-delays in development and oftentimes makes it impossible to provide quality housing to some of the most remote locations of the reservation. However, NHA is committed to this effort and is making major strides to address this issue.

According to Yazzie in the statement prepared for the SCIAO, “NHA recognizes that there are economic conditions, such as dwindling federal funds, which require smart and strategic investments in infrastructure.”

NHA is strongly urging the Trump Administration, working with Congress, to make the following changes to make the greatest impact for the Navajo community.

  • Housing Infrastructure: The Navajo Nation is in need of more than 34,000 new homes and must renovate 34,000 existing homes at the cost of more than $9 billion. Over the past four years, NHA has effectively proven that it has the capacity to spend the highest level of funds in Indian Country (an average of $143 million per year) and can have a lasting impact on the infrastructure development.
  • Environmental Review Reform: Every development under NHA is required to fulfill an environmental review process. In order to fulfill that requirement, NHA deals with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Interior, Indian Health Services, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Commerce, among others. NHA request that the Administration consider a Tribally Designated Housing Entity (TDHE) compliance with a NAHASDA environmental review be deemed in compliance with any other federal agency’s (including regulations) environmental review requirements regardless of any other source of federal funding is used on a project. This will help in relieving tribes of unnecessary bureaucracy
  • Veterans Affairs: NHA requests legislative language that will permanently establish and fully fund expansion of the Native American HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program—a program that provides much-needed and immediate housing assistance to Veterans who are homeless or at risk to be homeless.
  • Transportation Infrastructure: According to the Navajo Department of Transportation, just 15% of the roadways on the entire Navajo Nation are paved including seven nationally planned integrated airport strips and scores of surplus military bridges that are in critical need of repairing. Including just nine priority bridges that are all below a 50% sufficiency rating and 736 miles of route improvements would cost an estimated $2.6 billion in transportation funds.
  • Leveraged Financing to Spur Development: Traditional public housing entities have the authority to spur economic development by leveraging their appropriated federal dollars by issuing a security interest in their assets. TDHEs do not have this ability. Authorizing tribes and TDHEs to leverage their Line of Credit Control System funds and use the LOCCS payment system for debt services and financial cost would greatly assist tribes with securing additional funds that is sorely lacking from the Congressional appropriations process.
  • Federal Agency Coordination: Across the administration are several available options for the development of tribal housing, that all eventually lead to some coordination with the Department of Interior. Each administrative agency has their own outreach programs, however, the coordination between practitioners is lacking. TDHEs are arguably the largest funding source for infrastructure development for tribes, developing coordinated action plans among administrative agencies and tribes will help ensure that Indian Country works in a coordinated effort to optimize the use of federal resources and funds.

In its prepared testimony for SIIANA, NHA contends that housing is a key component to community and economic development.

“It establishes a strong foundation for positive growth by increasing structure and security. As the availability of housing helps sustain a growing population, it increases the chances of establishing needs for better quality schools, better healthcare, more business start-up opportunities, that in turn, create more jobs,” said Yazzie.

Since housing impacts community development and economic growth, in order to fully build sustainable Navajo communities NHA is using its federal housing dollars through the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) to execute strategies to create large-scale housing development that integrates larger community and economic development goals.

NHA outlined a few ways housing drives community and economic development:

  • Grows Infrastructure: In many Navajo communities on the reservation there were no power lines, telephone lines or even roads before houses were constructed. Housing created the infrastructure and helped further develop the communities.
  • Better Quality Schools: Indian educators say that the lack of housing impacts retention and recruitment of quality teachers, therefore impacting the value of an education received on the reservation.
  • More Businesses:  Additional development creates more business opportunities, such as gas stations, restaurants, fast food, and other small businesses.
  • Creates Transportation: Housing eases transportation needs for the community bringing roads to access schools, businesses, and other developments. (i.e. roads need to be built which requires personnel to oversee and maintain roads.).
  • Better Health Care:  A major cause of poor health care in Navajo communities is the inability to attract and retain quality medical staff. This is primarily due to the lack of housing on the reservation.
  • Grows the tax base: Housing facilitates business development and job creation. More businesses create and jobs that create a healthy tax base which in turn provides services to the Navajo people such as schools, hospitals, public safety and roads.

It is the goal of NHA to help build a home for every Navajo family while strengthening the socio-economic fabric of the Navajo Nation. The key to reaching this goal is building the infrastructure of the overall community; housing cannot exist without infrastructure (water, wastewater, electricity, heating systems, roads, and telecommunications).

NHA stands ready to work with the Senate and House Committees to further discuss these recommendations and work to ensure the proper funding is provided to Indian Country for housing and community development.

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