NHA chair furious about changes to housing plan

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, August 2, 2012

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(Times photo – Paul Natonabah)

Leonard Tsosie (Baca-Prewitt/Casamero Lake/Counselor/Littlewater/Ojo Encino/Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake) listens during the Naa'bik'yati' meeting last week.

N avajo Housing Authority Board President Edward T. Begay has threatened to file ethics complaints against two Council delegates who made changes to the tribe's housing plan.

Begay alleged during a four-hour public meeting last Thursday that Katherine Benally (Chilchinbeto/Dennehotso/Kayenta) and Leonard Tsosie (Baca-Prewitt/Casamero Lake/Counselor/Littlewater/Ojo Encino/Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake) stand to benefit personally from changes they made to the 2013 Navajo Nation Housing Plan, which will be used to obtain a $90 million grant under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act.

The grant will fund both new housing and renovation of existing dilapidated dwellings on tribal land.

Begay made his allegations during a report on the housing plan by NHA Chief Executive Officer Aneva Yazzie to the Council's Naa'bik'iyáti' Committee.

Begay states in a July 16 letter to President Ben Shelly and a July 20 letter to HUD Regional Administrator Randy Akers, that Benally and Tsosie changed the 2013 housing plan "to provide for more funding for their own chapters."

Begay emphasized that the changes did not comply with protocol set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the grants.

The Council's Resources and Development Committee, headed by Benally, approved the changes July 11.

Begay said one change would award about $2.5 million "to (Benally's) own Dennehotso Chapter for her Sweat Equity Project."

The NHA board considered the Dennehotso project, but decided not to include it in the 2013 housing plan because "the proposal stated that it would not comply with NAHASDA rules and regulations."

Benally then announced in her July 11 committee meeting she would change the proposal to show that it would comply with NHA policies, Begay stated.

The other change would provide an additional $400,000 in planning money for "(Tsosie's) chapters of Pueblo Pintado, Counselor, Baca, and Whitehorse Lake," Begay said. The NHA plan includes $110,000 in planning money to be distributed among all of the Navajo Nation's 110 chapters.

Tsosie also wants to set aside about $5.6 million for college housing, Begay said, adding that neither proposal was formally submitted.

Neither Benally nor Tsosie submitted their changes prior to the May 31 deadline, although the NHA board had granted Benally's request for an additional two weeks to offer changes, Begay said.

Begay said the two delegates' changes to the housing plan resulted in the removal of two awards his board had approved: about $2.2 million for the Diné Bi Association Inc. and about $7.5 million for the Community Infrastructure and Housing Department.

"The NHA board is also deeply concerned that the RDC's actions are inherently unfair and unethical by two members channeling funds to their own communities without having to comply with the proposal submission and evaluation process that was in place for everyone else except the two RDC members," Begay stated.

"The Board of Commissioners is also concerned that HUD may issue a finding against the NHA because the projects added on at the last minute by the RDC do not comply with NAHASDA requirements and NHA NAHASDA Indian Housing Block Grant Management System Policy," he said.

Begay told the Naa'bik'iyáti' Committee at Thursday's meeting that he was surprised to learn that Shelly had approved the RDC housing plan instead of the NHA board's plan.

Shelly's legal advisor, Heather Claw, told the committee that Shelly had checked with HUD before acting. She said that before Shelly signed the RDC housing plan, he telephoned Deputy Assistant Secretary for Native American Programs Rodger Boyd and asked him about Begay's concerns.

Claw noted that Shelly received the housing plan just two days before the HUD deadline of 4:30 p.m. on July 18. Had the tribe missed the deadline, it would have forfeited the grant, according to Begay and Yazzie.

Claw said Boyd informed Shelly that once HUD receives the Navajo housing plan, it will go through a 60-day review and if a project is not up to par it will not be approved. In that case, the tribe could submit a different project for funding.

Claw said Shelly also asked if the changes approved by the Resources and Development Committee would result in the tribe losing federal housing money.

"Boyd said no," Claw told the Nábik'yáti Committee.

After reviewing about two inches of documents, including a one-inch bound report by NHA, the Naa'bik'iyáti Committee questioned Begay's assertion that Benally and Tsosie would personally benefit from the changes they championed.

They also questioned NHA's assertion that even though the RDC had the final approval authority over the annual Navajo housing plan, it did not have the power to change it.

Some delegates called for amending the RDC's plan of operation to give the Naa'bik'iyáti' Committee final approval over the tribe's federally funded housing plan. Benally voiced support for such a change.

Among the documents reviewed were two letters of support for Benally from Benally's chapters of Chilchinbeto, Dennehotso and Kayenta.

According to the letters, NHA failed to notify the chapters about an opportunity for them to go before the housing plan review panel to discuss their three proposals.

Chapter representatives said the NHA review team selected two of their three proposals for federal funding.

"We then learned our proposals were denied based on answering 'no' to adhering to NHA policies and procedures," the chapter representatives stated to Begay, Yazzie and the NHA board on July 25.

"We find it unprofessional, unethical, and unfair by not informing the respective chapters the denial of the proposals submitted," they added.

The chapter representatives said they had based their answer on their understanding that as LGA-certified chapters, they were qualified to manage federal housing funds.

"Our communities include members that are highly qualified and educated to assess and mobilize at the community level, thus leading to enhanced local empowerment, which is the true spirit of NAHASDA," they emphasized.

The Naa'bik'iyáti' Committee voted 10-2 to accept the NHA updated report on the 2013 Navajo Nation housing plan.

On Monday, acting Ethics and Rules Office Director Vernon Roanhorse said he had not seen an ethics complaint filed by Begay against Benally and Tsosie.

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