A Navajo Nation first: community-owned apartments

Shiprock, New Mexico (AP) April 2010

Almost 100 Navajo families have a new home after the opening of the $14 million Chaco River Apartments.

The community-owned apartments are a first for the Navajo Nation and have 96 units. The apartments are operated by a nonprofit community board but a developer will continue to work as property management agent and co-owner.

“Our population has grown,” Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly said during The April 1 ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I wouldn’t be surprised to reach half a million in this 2010 census, but we have outgrown a lot of things and we need to accommodate.”

Shelly said home site leases are difficult to secure and the apartments can be a housing answer for many tribal members. Developers hope to use the Shiprock complex as a model for similar projects elsewhere on the Navajo Nation.

“This is a really prime example of what can happen across the Navajo Nation because people need houses,” said state Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock. “Waiting lists are long and people are homeless. There is a need for more money for similar projects.”

Funding came from the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, the Rural Development Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Navajo Housing Authority.

Completion of the complex, which sits on seven acres next to Northern Navajo Medical Center, marks the end of a five-year process fraught with obstacles, including a two-week, $11,000 construction halt caused by a minor code infraction.

The complex includes 24 federally assisted low-income units, 60 tax-credit units and 12 market units, which are available to the general public. There are two- and three-bedroom layouts, ranging from 898 to 1,207 square feet, with the market rental rate for a two-bedroom apartment averaging $895 per month.

“The need for low-income housing is tremendous,” said Shiprock Chapter president Duane “Chili” Yazzie. “Especially right now with the economy as it is and the exploding population, there are needs for new modes of housing that our younger people might prefer over living on the family homesteads.”

The complex officially opened last November and already houses 79 Navajo families.

“I’m glad to see Shiprock is leading the way,” Shelly said. “This will keep the population here on the reservation. Navajo will grow, and this will keep the people here.”