The Navajo Housing Authority on Monday proposed an agreement with South Shiprock Housing Inc., that allows the NHA to complete homes that for the last six years have stood empty and in various stages of disrepair. The proposal came during a special meeting of the NHA's board of commissioners, held in the Farmington Civic Center.
The agreement, which comes with a price tag of about $17 million, means construction on 91 single-family homes finally will continue. Board members for South Shiprock Housing, Inc., the entity that manages the housing development, agreed to give NHA management oversight of the project, including the right to hire a contractor and ensure that all buildings meet relevant codes.
NHA will return the keys to South Shiprock Housing after the homes are completed.
"We need to make this project whole," said Aneva Yazzie, CEO of the Navajo Housing Authority. "We'll let the past be the past."
Many of the homes, scattered among existing NHA housing in south Shiprock, are topped with cheery red, blue and green roofs a stark contrast to the dim circumstances that years ago led to a construction impasse.
Construction began in December 2004, and 53 homes were partially built. Construction was stalled in 2006 in response to a series of financial and legal roadblocks.
Of those 53 homes, some are nearly complete while others didn't progress past foundation work.
No work was done since 2006 after Fort Defiance Housing Corporation filed a lawsuit against the owner of Lodgebuilder, a subcontractor, for bribery, embezzlement and theft from Indian tribal organizations. The legal issues were compounded when building code violations and other problems surfaced.
After NHA spent about $11 million on the project, the site was shut down and the remaining money was reassigned to other projects.
Since construction stalled, 15 homes burned, said Frank Fuchs, senior design architect with WHPacific, an Albuquerque-based company hired to inspect the development and make recommendations about how to proceed.
Thirteen of the homes damaged by fire are a total loss, Fuchs said. Some burned completely to the ground.
Additionally, nearly every home experienced some sort of vandalism, he said. Most windows were broken and walls were torn apart so thieves could take copper wiring and sell it.
"Because they have sat for so long, the construction has deteriorated," Fuchs said. "The longer this goes on without the structures being protected from the elements, the more deterioration is going to happen."
All the history was set aside Monday when the governing boards of the Navajo Housing Authority and Shiprock Housing Inc. agreed to move forward.
The agreement signals a willingness to provide shelter for a big chunk of the Shiprock population. It also means the six-year impasse over construction management is at an end.
"There is a big need for housing in Shiprock," said Russell Begaye, Shiprock delegate to the Navajo Nation Council. "The population in Shiprock is much higher than what's on paper."
Shiprock, one of the largest of the Navajo Nation's 110 chapters, is home to a big population of atypical homeless people, Begaye said.
"We get people from all over the Navajo Nation," he said. "We have every chapter represented, and many of them don't live here. They farm in Shiprock, but they live across the reservation. They work at the mine or the power plants, but they live in their cars."
The proposal, which prompted a verbal agreement Monday, will be finalized in the next few days, Begaye said. It then will go before the Navajo Nation Council's Re-sources and Development Committee and Budget and Finance Committee before the full Council votes on it.
The funding comes from the NHA, the tribe's affordable housing entity. The NHA funds housing through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and in conjunction with the Navajo American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act.
The agreement calls for two stages of construction, Yazzie said.
Phase 1, which could start as early as next month, calls for installation of infrastructure for all the houses and demolition of four units that are unsalvageable. Phase 1 will cost about $8.1 million, Yazzie said.
Following successful completion of the first phase, the NHA then will embark on construction or reconstruction of 91 homes, an undertaking that could cost an additional $9 million or more.
"We want to really expedite this," Yazzie said of the project.
Blueprints call for five housing types. Two-, three- and four-bedroom homes are in the plans, as well as two styles of handicap-accessible buildings.
The meeting Monday also included discussion about the future occupants of the homes and the possibility of residents owning them.
Although most NHA homes are available on a rental basis, Begaye asked commissioners to consider extending options to would-be homeowners. He also pleaded for support in offering preference to veterans once South Shiprock Housing Inc. begins seeking tenants.
"One thing our people really want is to own their own homes," Begaye said. "There's something about owning a home. It changes the way you live your life. It brings a sense of pride."