Lawsuit alleges tribal agency's eviction policy discriminates against victims of domestic violence, most of whom are women

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FARMINGTON — DNA People's Legal Services is suing Navajo Housing Authority over allegations the tribal agency's eviction policies discriminate against domestic violence victims.

Attorneys state in the lawsuit filed March 7 in Navajo Nation District Court that the tribal agency's policies require that all members of a household involved in a domestic violence incident be evicted, which the legal clinic argues is unfair to the victims of the violence, who are often women.

Attorneys argue that those women are guaranteed equal protection under the law by the Navajo Nation Bill of Rights and Navajo traditional law, and the policy violates that right.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is identified as a grandmother who, along with her two daughters and two grandchildren, was evicted from an NHA home days after a boyfriend threatened to kill the family with a firearm, according to court documents.

Attorneys argue the plaintiffs failed to provide the woman written notice before her eviction — a violation of the agency's policies, documents state.

DNA People's Legal Services has refused to identify the woman, citing privacy concerns. The legal clinic also declined to provide a full copy of its civil complaint against NHA.

The plaintiff seeks new housing in the lawsuit. She also requests that a judge order NHA to discontinue evicting victims of domestic violence.

Navajo Housing Authority provides low-income families affordable housing on the reservation. The tribal agency is a partner of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

NHA spokesman Christian Bigwater said in a statement that the tribal agency is reviewing the complaint and preparing a response.

"NHA is prepared to respond to the suit with the facts of the matter, which, in short, will show that the plaintiff was not evicted but voluntarily vacated her rental unit ..." Bigwater said.

He said this is not a case of discrimination, adding the plaintiff is using that "to sway from the truth of the matter."

"NHA attempted to work with her to be re-assisted but the plaintiff refused and did not cooperate with NHA," he said in the statement.

Attorney Emily Soli of DNA People's Legal Services is representing the plaintiff in the lawsuit.

She said Wednesday that eviction policies similar to NHA's were common at public housing complexes throughout the country until the Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994 and prohibited it.

"It's sort of a tough-on-crime policy," Soli said. "Once they find out that a crime was committed in a unit, everyone is evicted. Not just the perpetrator — everyone."

Soli said she hopes NHA will agree to change its policies without a court order.

"We would like the Navajo Nation to be a leader among tribal entities on these types of policies," she said.

Most residents interviewed Friday at the Bluffview Housing Community, an NHA project located near the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry's headquarters south of Farmington, said they were unfamiliar with the tribal agency's eviction policy as it relates to domestic violence.

Duran Johns said he has lived in Bluffview since 1992 and he has never heard of the policy.

"I think the policy should change and make it more fair to the victim," Johns said. "It's not their fault."

Janice Yazzie said women who face eviction should contact DNA People's Legal Services and fight it.

"The woman should stay," Yazzie said.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.

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