The Pascua Yaqui Tribe and Tohono O’odham Nation have received about $4.5 million each in noncompetitive grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The annual grant awards, announced Tuesday, are part of $132 million in Indian Housing Block Grants awarded to 19 tribes in Arizona. The allocation is based on a formula considering local need and benefits low-income families on reservations or other indigenous communities, according to HUD.
Since 1996, the block-grant program has allowed tribes to build or acquire nearly 37,000 affordable homes and rehabilitate more than 77,000 housing units, according to a HUD news release.
The grant comes on the heels of a $2.75 million, competitive grant awarded last week to the Tohono O’odham Ki:Ki Association. The group is the nation’s tribally designated housing entity — created by tribal ordinance, but separate from the tribe’s executive branch of government — which receives public housing funding for the tribe.
On the Tohono O’odham reservation west of Tucson, where multiple generations often share a single-family home or trailer, overcrowding is a bigger problem than homelessness, said Pete Delgado, executive director of the Tohono O’odham Ki:Ki (O’odham for “housing”) Association, also known as TOKA.
“Instead of having the homelessness, you’re going to have five people living in a 10-by-10 room,” he said.
Last year, HUD estimated the Tohono O’odham Nation had over 1,500 overcrowded homes, he said. A 1,200-square-foot home built for three or four people could house as many as 16 people, he said.
“You have multiple generations living in a home because there is no other housing on the reservation,” Delgado said. “We don’t have apartments, we don’t have condominiums. It affects the health, the safety of the individual, but it also affects the home. The homes deteriorate a lot faster if you put enough burden on them.”
The $2.75 million award requires a matching commitment of $850,000 from TOKA. That money will be drawn from the annual HUD funding, Delgado said.
The combined $3.6 million will be used to construct 15 single-family homes, at a cost of $240,000 each.
That price tag is high — especially for a modestly sized home — for a number of reasons: New-home construction is complicated by the reservation’s remoteness and its lack of existing infrastructure, like electricity and plumbing, Delgado said. Construction crews from Tucson sometimes have to drive two hours one way to reach the worksite, adding to their costs. Plus, the association is also obligated by federal guidelines to pay construction teams higher wages.
The new homes will be reserved for those earning less than 80 percent of area median income, which equates to about $52,000 for a family of four, Delgado said. Residents will pay no more than 30 percent of their household income on a lease basis for the first five years, during a trial period. If the family makes all those payments, those funds and all future payments go toward paying down the mortgage.
Delgado said the association’s grant application was strengthened by its record of successfully implementing prior grant proposals. In 2013, HUD awarded the group another $2.75 million to overhaul 24 vacant and abandoned homes. The project was completed, and 24 families moved in, within the required two-year timeframe, he said.
The association also won the $2.75 million grant it applied for in 2014, but only after the application was initially denied because of computer problems during the application process. The group appealed the denial and a few months ago was retroactively awarded the grant, which funds another 15 homes. Construction of those homes will happen concurrently with this year’s grant-funded construction.
At about 1,800 square feet, the new homes will have between three and five bedrooms. Native American families often pass their homes on for generations, so the homes will be built with durable materials, Delgado said.
“It’s a smaller home,” he said, “but it’s meant to last.”
A representative for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.