White Mountain Apache Housing Authority Serves its Veterans

The White Mountain Apache Housing Authority (WMAHA) helps the members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe to overcome their individual housing needs. Of these, almost 500 are U.S. military veterans. Working in the Fort Apache Indian Reservation located in eastern central Arizona, WMAHA serves the 16,000 enrolled members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and strives to ensure that every tribal member has safe housing they can afford. The Housing Assistance Council (HAC) is proud to be a partner of WMAHA and their amazing work. In 2018, we awarded a $30,000 grant through The Home Depot Foundation‘s Veteran Housing Grants Program to WMAHA to help support their veterans. In celebration of Veterans Day and Native American Heritage Month, we’d like to highlight just a few of the many ways the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority serves the veterans of the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Before rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018 

Before rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018

After rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018 

After rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018

Before and after of a rehab of a veteran’s home completed by WMAHA in 2018 

 

As many veterans know, service doesn’t end when you’re discharged. It’s a value that is carried for a lifetime. For WMAHA, service is key to the mission. The Veteran Home Rehabilitation Program serves those who have served our country. Many of the low-income Apache veterans the Housing Authority assists are in desperate need of multiple, expensive repairs to make sure their homes are safe, accessible, and livable. But without the ability to make these repairs themselves, many veterans need help.

Over the last eight years, the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority has rehabilitated (or in one case built!) 19 homes for their veterans, each of which required multiple major repairs for health, safety, and accessibility. All of this was performed at no cost to the veteran or their family. Last year WMAHA was able to set a record with 5 rehabilitations.

Making sure their veterans have safe and healthy homes is a point of pride for WMAHA and for the entire White Mountain Apache community. After all, WMAHA doesn’t work alone: each rehabilitation is made possible by scores of volunteers. As the team from WMAHA explains, “the number of volunteers who come and help with demolition and construction cleanup during the projects” is a testament to the rehabilitation program’s “impact on the community.” From the Housing Authority to everyday members, including community partners, the White Mountain Apache Tribe takes care of its veterans. By taking care of those who took care of us, WMAHA is serving both its community and the broader community of veterans nationwide.

The COVID pandemic has hit many Native communities particularly hard, and tragically, the White Mountain Apache are no exception. During the pandemic, unemployment, which usually runs 80% according to WMAHA, has far surpassed that amount, and food insecurity is “at a critical level.” Many of the low-income veterans WMAHA assists don’t have a way to pick up food from the local food bank, so the Housing Authority is starting to deliver the food boxes itself. Not content to just help house their veterans, WMAHA is committed to improving their quality of life.

Caring for veterans extends outside the home, too. For WMAHA, ensuring their veterans have access to the Veterans Affairs benefits they deserve is a critical mission. With 1.67 million acres, the Fort Apache Indian Reservation is large and rural. This creates challenges for many of the Tribe’s low-income veterans. Many of the nearest VA hospitals are hundreds of miles away, which makes even getting to routine appointments incredibly difficult. This distance makes it so challenging to receive disability ratings, see specialists, and make necessary appointments that, according to Barb Connerley, a consultant who works with WMAHA, “many of the veterans…do not know what VA benefits are available to them.”

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

This veteran’s home was in such disrepair the team from WMAHA decided to tear it down and start from scratch.

The White Mountain Apache Housing Authority has created a solution to help connect their veterans to the VA medical care they earned through their service. Since 2017, the White Mountain Apache Tribe Department of Transportation has operated Fort Apache Connection Transit (FACT), a 2-route bus system serving 12 stops across the Reservation. While this system doesn’t provide access to the nearest VA hospitals, the Housing Authority recently began repurposing one of their buses to transport veterans to their VA appointments. Multiple times a month, WMAHA will be providing veterans with a bus ride to their appointments and back home. They even take the time to help the veterans complete their paperwork to file for VA benefits.

For the trip, WMAHA provides their veterans with water, snacks, masks, and COVID safety information. They hope that this program can also serve as a teaching event, helping their veterans learn more about COVID safety as well as how to access their VA benefits. The program’s strength is its ingenuity—bringing together transit, healthcare, and informational services—in solving a critical problem for the Tribe’s veterans. Thanks to the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority, veterans living on reservation now have access to the critical VA healthcare they’ve earned through their service.

Many veterans return from their service to find it difficult to access the resources of their communities, including housing. Tragically, Native communities are overrepresented among persistent poverty counties, making these resources even harder to access. The Housing Assistance Council is committed to helping build community resources for housing where they’re needed most. Partners like WMAHA help us give back to our veterans and uplift Native communities. As Barb Connerley puts it, the Tribe’s veterans “have a proud tradition of military service and sacrifice.” The work of the White Mountain Apache Housing Authority pays respect to that service and sacrifice through service, care, and ingenuity of its own.

Rural Voices: Meeting Native American Housing Needs

This issue of Rural Voices focuses on the progress being made in improving the housing conditions of Native Americans. Considerable challenges, including substandard conditions, overcrowding, insufficient funding, and persistent poverty, face Indian Country, but tribes and their housing organizations are equally persistent in working to overcome them. Rural Voices authors share what readers need to know when working with tribes, highlight innovative projects, discuss funding opportunities, and further describe challenges for a diverse population of Native American tribes across the country. The Wells Fargo Housing Foundation has provided generous support for this issue of Rural Voices, and for HAC’s other work on Native American housing needs and solutions.

VIEW FROM WASHINGTON

Building a Stronger Indian Country: The BUILD Act and Indian Housing
by Senator John Hoeven

The BUILD Act aims to improve the development of tribal housing projects and reauthorize critical Indian housing programs.

FEATURES

Creating Sustainable Homelands through Homeownership on Trust Lands
by Patrice H. Kunesh

A multifaceted approach can help leverage resources to improve housing and economic development in Indian Country.

Partnering with Tribes to Address Housing Needs
by Deana Around Him and Yvette Roubideaux

Open communication, cultural humility, and respect go a long way when working together with tribes.

Important Considerations for Working with Tribes
by Twila Martin Kekahbah

Understanding tribal governance,sovereignty, and the barriers to tribal development is critical to doing business with American Indian tribes.

Housing Solutions that Work for Native Americans
by Anthony Walters

The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act is an important tool in meeting tribal housing needs.

Helping Native Americans Become Homeowners through Section 184
by Jeff Bowman and Tanya Krueger

This Native-owned bank has what it takes to successfully use HUD’s Section 184 program to meet tribal members’ housing needs.

Native Community Finance Serves Native Americans in New Mexico
by Marvin Ginn

Native CDFIs provide funds and services to improve Native American housing conditions.

Housing for Holistic Rez Living
by James “JC” Crawford

Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate has had major success in integrating housing and community needs.

INFOGRAPHIC

American and Alaska Native (AIAN) Communities at a Glance InfographicAmerican and Alaska Native (AIAN) Communities at a Glance


Rural Voices would like to hear what you have to say about one, or all, of these issues. Please feel free to comment on this story by sending a tweet to #RuralVoicesMag, discuss on the Rural Affordable Housing Group on LinkedIn, or on our Facebook page.

HUD Releases Native American Housing Studies

American Indian tribes are building more housing units after enactment of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 (NAHASDA) but housing conditions are substantially worse among American Indian households than other U.S. households. These are some of the findings of three new comprehensive reports of tribal housing needs just released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Urban Institute.

Special circumstances on tribal areas — remoteness, lack of infrastructure, complex legal issues and other constraints related to land ownership — make it extremely difficult to improve housing conditions in some areas, according to the reports. Based on the assessments of doubled up households and the number of severely distressed housing units in tribal areas, it is estimated that 68,000 more units are needed to replace severely inadequate units and to eliminate overcrowding in tribal areas. While tribes have been able to use NAHASDA funds effectively, their purchasing power has been eroded by inflation.

Key findings from the Housing Needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Tribal Areas report:

  • Housing conditions vary by region but are substantially worse overall among American Indian and Alaska Native households in tribal areas than among all U.S. households, with overcrowding being especially severe.
  • Physical deficiencies in plumbing, kitchen, heating, electrical, and maintenance issues were found in 23 percent of households in tribal areas, compared to 5 percent of all U.S. households.
  • Overcrowding coupled with another physical condition problem was found in 34 percent of households in tribal areas, compared to 7 percent of all U.S. households.
  • The percentage of households with at least one “doubled-up” person staying in the household because they have nowhere else to go was 17 percent, estimated to be up to 84,700 people.

Key findings from the Mortgage Lending on Tribal Land report:

  • While Native Americans value homeownership as much as other Americans, mortgage lending is limited in Indian Country because reservation land is held in trust and cannot be used to secure a mortgage loan.
  • Since 1994, nearly half of mortgage loans originated on tribal lands were in Oklahoma (45 percent by number and 37 percent by dollar value). The entire state of Oklahoma is considered an ‘eligible area,’ the state has no tribal trust areas, there are several participating lenders in the state, and many Native Americans live in Oklahoma.

Key findings from the Housing Needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Urban Areas report:

  • Native Americans are becoming more urban but are still less likely to live in a city than other Americans. Even within urban areas, these households often live in census tracts within or near a village or reservation.
  • American Indian and Alaska Native households are more likely to occupy worse housing than the rest of the population and more likely to be overcrowded.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native individuals leave their village or reservation due to lack of opportunities and some people cycle back and forth between their tribal home and a nearby primary city.
  • For Native Americans who struggle to transition from a village or reservation to an urban area, there are a specific set of challenges, including lack of familiarity with urban life and urban housing markets, lack of employment, limited social networks, insufficient rental or credit history, and race-based discrimination.