Navajo Nation Leadership Undertaking Efforts to Build Strong Housing Program

Members of the NHA Reform Task Force present a report to the Naabik’iyati’ Committee on Dec. 28.

Published January 2, 2017

WINDOW ROCK – On Dec. 28, the Navajo Housing Authority (NHA) Reform Task Force presented a report to the Navajo Nation Council that it has been developing since September.

One of the greatest challenges facing the Navajo Nation is a lack of housing for our Navajo people. And so, the Office of the President and Vice President (OPVP) is undertaking the effort to reform NHA.

“This is not an overnight fix,” President Russell Begaye said. “This a step-by-step effort that must be done because we want to build a more efficient housing program that will earn the confidence of the public. Bottom line, the goal is to build quality homes for our people.”

The NHA Board of Commissioners has said, “We are encouraged by the progress made since June and we look forward to continue working with our leaders at all levels in the Nation to ensure that NHA and its partners across the Nation work together to solve our housing issues.”

On Oct. 1, President Begaye appointed the Ad Hoc NHA Reform Task Force, chaired by OPVP. The task force was created to issue recommendations to tribal leadership on how to streamline the process to build more homes. In part, the formation of the task force was prompted by a letter sent by Senator John McCain on Sept. 27 seeking progress on housing.

The NHA Reform Task Force was made up of two subcommittees focused on Navajo Nation policies and federal policies that obstruct and hinder the progress of housing development on the Nation. The subcommittees included employees from NHA as well as representatives from the executive and legislative branch.

The Navajo Nation is the grant beneficiary of NAHASDA resources. Therefore, on Oct. 20, a separate group was established by President Begaye as the Ad Hoc Grant Beneficiary Committee. The goal of the committee is to determine how to best fulfill the grant beneficiary responsibility to monitor NHA’s delivery of housing on the Nation and to present legislation that will codify this process into Navajo law.

In addition to the work of the ad hoc task force, President Begaye authorized a forensic audit on Oct. 15 of NHA non-program funds. The decision was supported by the NHA Board. KPMG assisted the Navajo Nation Office of Auditor General to examine larger transactions executed by NHA between 2014 and 2016. The audit report will help identify areas where improved policies and procedures are appropriate.

The findings in the report indicate a lack of policies for certain types of transactions. The audit will now guide the Board to make the changes necessary to address the audit.

“I am glad the audit has been helpful to indicate areas that policies are both needed and strengthened,” President Begaye said. “The NHA Board, Grant Beneficiary Committee and the Council will need to work hand-in-hand to quickly address these deficiencies so as to arrive at the end goal of providing homes for our Navajo people.”

The Ad Hoc Grant Beneficiary Committee will continue its work to develop the approach with the intention of recommending legislation that will eventually codify the oversight into Title 2 of the Navajo Nation Code.

Committee recommendations include guidance on how to strengthen existing procurement policies; suggest new open-meeting and lobbyist laws; expand the audit scope to conduct additional transaction tests; and conduct independent reviews of policies regarding contract management.

“The Navajo Nation and the new NHA Board are cooperating, which is why we have made great progress in developing a plan of action to build more homes and I intend to execute the plan this coming year,” President Begaye said. “There will be more communication and cooperation between the Navajo Nation and NHA to ensure we have shared goals, approaches and successes, that were lacking before.”

Vice President Jonathan Nez said, “We appreciate the new NHA Board of Commissioners coming in and wanting to see a better program. We look forward to their selection of a new CEO and also appreciate the good work of NHA employees to provide housing for the Navajo people, including veterans and elders.”

In May, three new Board members were confirmed and the first meeting was held on June 7. According to NHA’s 2017 Annual Performance Report, NHA has continued its work and built 332 modernizations, 115 construction rentals and 72 new construction ownerships allowing more than 500 units to become available for Navajo families. On Dec. 4, the fifth and final Board member was confirmed.

The group known as the Land Reform Subcommittee was chaired by Rex Kontz, deputy general manager of NTUA. The objective of this group was to make recommendations to reform Navajo laws and policy concerning housing. The subcommittee recommends that the Navajo Nation examine new legislation that defines limits, processes, zones and management of grazing permits to streamline the process for home site approval. It also recommends development of one approach to manage land surveys on the Nation.

The NAHASDA Subcommittee was chaired by Jackson Brossy, executive director of NNWO. It is tasked with identifying all federal regulations and statutes to ensure compliance from NHA and also to issue recommendations for federal reform. Specifically, the group looked into potential changes to NAHASDA regulations, such as expanding the income requirements to allow median-to-higher income households, streamlining the environmental clearance process, and expediting the modernization funding process for private homes in need of repair.

The group recommends a change in how incomes are calculated, the Navajo Nation seeks authority to approve environmental clearances in lieu of federal approval, and NHA seeks ways to leverage housing production with non-NAHASDA funding to serve households of all income levels.

Information gathered by the task force will help to make sure that tribal leaders are better informed and prepared to reform NHA. That knowledge will help to make sound judgments in the future for ongoing reform efforts.

The audit will not be released to the public as it is deemed private from the Office of Chief Prosecutor and Ethics and Rules Office.

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