(Jenny Kane)
SHIPROCK — Veteran Wayne Saltwater, 76, waited since the mid-1990s for his dream home to be built. On Tuesday, he stood on its front porch.
Saltwater is just one of 15 veterans in the Shiprock area who in the next year will finally see a dream home become a reality, a reality that many of the veterans thought they never would see.
A dozen of them gathered Tuesday for Saltwater's open house to see what their homes might look like, and to say thank you to some of those responsible for moving the construction process forward.
The Navajo Housing Authority since 1963 has built homes for the Navajo people, more than 4 percent of them veterans. However, it reached a lull in construction from 2004 to 2007, when the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs, a sub-department of NHA, misappropriated funds.
Homes that were to be built under a $17.1 million Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act grant were stalled, applications for the homes were misplaced, and the operations stilled.
“There was no rhyme or reason,” said Earl Tulley, chief operations officer for NHA.
The NHA intervened in 2007 and took over the DNVA's duties. It found that many of the veterans' applications, were lost or mixed up, a mess that needed to be fixed immediately.
“All we had to do was rearrange,” Tulley said.
Since, 46 homes were built by the NHA, 15 of which were for veterans. In total, the 46 homes across the Navajo Nation cost about $8.8 million to construct, according to Tulley.
Homeowners haven't moved in yet, but they are expected to late this year, or early next.
“We share a room with our daughter,” said Tahnibaa Naataanii, a veteran who joined the Navy when she was 17 years old.
Naataanii's application for a home was lost, and then denied, several years back when she first applied. Like others, she wanted to give up at times, but she maintained her patience, she said.
Naataanii found out just recently, she is going to get her home this upcoming spring.
“I said (to my daughter), 'You're going to have your own room.' She was happy, very happy.”
The homes average in value slightly less than $170,000, more or less the total cost of construction of the homes. However, through the NHA the homeowner only has to pay off about half of the home's cost.
Payments can be as low as $150 per month, based on income, though any disability income received by veterans is not factored in, so as to lessen their monthly payments.
“Before they get these homes, all of their money goes to rent,” said Cecilia Bidtah, housing manager for NHA.
The homes also are built keeping in mind environment, family size and cultural values.
“You'll notice, all the doors are facing east,” said Dwayne Waseta, construction division director for the NHA.
Each home is based off of one of eight separate models.
The homes are not just available to veterans, and the NHA encourages anyone interested to apply.
“I wish there was a word greater than 'Ahe'hee,'” said Saltwater to members of the NHA on Tuesday before showing fellow veterans his new home.