WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The United States Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) released a Final Monitoring (investigative) Report concluding that Navajo Housing Authority (NHA) is in full compliance with federal housing statutes and regulations. The HUD report also acknowledges NHA for developing and implementing internal reforms addressing past challenges according to a press release issued by the Authority earlier today.
From March 11-17, a team of HUD officials visited the Navajo Nation and interviewed NHA staff and board members, and visited six of 10 project sites that were profiled and scrutinized in a newspaper series in early December 2016.
“The projects addressed in this progress assessment were questioned in recent news articles in the Arizona Republic causing concern among national stakeholders and Congress,” reads the 14-page Final Monitoring Report, received by NHA on Aug. 15. HUD went on to say the “purpose of this review was to gather information on the conception, progress and completion of the projects in order to validate, dismiss, or provide greater context for the issues raised in the article.”
The report concluded: “The review identified no findings and one concern.”
“This is good news because it clarifies a lot of misinformation about these projects, all from 2001 to 2010. It validates what we have known all along that there were past issues and NHA addressed them,” said Board members Kris Beecher (chairman), Derrith Watchman-Moore (vice-chairwoman), Sean McCabe (secretary/treasurer), and Frankie Lee (member) in a joint statement. “The report clarifies NHA’s role, as well as the issues, problems, completions, and status of each of the 10 projects profiled, and because of these highlighted failed projects NHA will always be highly scrutinized by HUD therefore we must always strive to improve our business practices.”
In a 2001 project at Tolani Lake, initiated under the leadership of former NHA Chief Executive Officer Chester Carl, NHA attempted to take over and salvage the housing project after revoking the funding agreement with the organization in 2008. The HUD report said NHA was only a funding source and did not have legal authority over the project. The HUD team determined that NHA can do a better job assessing the ability of sub-grantees to complete its’ project, and as a result issued a “concern.” According to HUD, “A concern is a deficiency in program performance that does not constitute a violation of a statutory or regulatory requirement.”
The report made it clear that in the 2001 Tolani Lake project and other projects they reviewed, NHA could not step in and take over. “ONAP [Office of Native American Programs] observed that key projects were delayed due to lack of site control by NHA,” the report said. “Site control was held by sub-recipient; therefore, if anything went wrong with the project and/or the subcontractor, NHA could not intervene to continue construction or secure the site, even if IHBG [Indian Housing Block Grant] funds were used.”
“This clarification is necessary because a lot of times the public believes all construction projects on Navajo, are NHA projects,” said Roberta Roberts, NHA Interim Chief Executive Officer. “There are also more misunderstandings about NHA that we will be clarifying in upcoming months. One is the false belief that the total NAHASDA (Native American Housing & Self-Determination Act) grant we receive each year should be spent on new housing construction. We can’t do that because almost half of each year’s grant is restricted by NAHASDA rules. We actually only have between $35 million to $40 million each year for new housing construction and model projects such as youth centers, elderly group homes, crime prevention activities, street repairs, and other housing related services.”
On May 25, a draft monitoring report was provided to NHA and NHA had 60 days to contest any items in the draft report; NHA asked HUD on May 30 to proceed with finalizing the report with one minor clarification.
“The HUD report also highlighted significant internal program improvements made in recent years by NHA as a result of the lessons learned,” added Roberts.
The report said:
“In addition, NHA’s processes for project performance requirements and monitoring have been significantly improved. The restructure of the NHA departments to strengthen internal oversight and the development of several handbooks, like NHA’s IHBG Recipient and Sub-Recipient Development and Construction Handbook, has reduced risk, improved reporting and help ensure timely progress of projects.”
The HUD team also acknowledged improvements by NHA to its sub-recipient program. “In response to an audit by HUD’s office of Inspector General, NHA has taken steps to improve the selection of sub-recipients,” the report said. “Specifically, the capacity of the sub-recipient to manage and execute the construction phase of the project is better vetted by utilizing the improved sub-recipient award process.”
“We know we have additional responsibilities and requirements beyond HUD regulations, for this reason we will continue to work with our tribal leaders and beyond to address the issues NHA faces as we move forward building homes and communities,” said the Board members. “We are the largest, rural housing agency in the U.S., and we know we will continue to have challenges, but we are committed to finding ways to overcome them as they arise.”
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