10 low-income Tulalip homes to be torn down

When she washes dishes in her kitchen sink, Denise Lamont can see Tulalip Bay through a thin grove of evergreen trees.

For the past three years, Lamont has lived in her simple, square home in a neighborhood just off Marine Drive on the Tulalip Indian Reservation. In June her home and nine others identical to it will be torn down to make room for 10 duplexes — homes for 20 tribal families.

“This is what I’ll miss,” Lamont said, sweeping her arm toward the view through her kitchen window.

Lamont, 56, and everyone else left in the 10 homes at what’s known as the Church Site development on Ezra Hatch Road must move out before wrecking crews roll into the neighborhood. Lamont’s not happy about moving, but she knows what the change will mean for tribal members searching for a place to settle.

Every day, tribal housing officials are faced with a list of more than 300 people who are waiting for homes. Three years ago, Lamont was on that list.

“It’s hard, really hard, to wait,” she said. “I still have lots of relatives who are on that list.”

The 10 homes that will be torn down were built about 30 years ago, said Vince Henry, a construction supervisor for the Tulalip Housing Department. That was when tribal members say they began tasting the fruits of tribal sovereignty. The homes, each measuring about 1,000 square feet, were built on concrete slabs with federal Housing and Urban Development dollars. Low-income tribal families have lived in them ever since.

It’s time for an upgrade, Tulalip Housing Director Herman Williams said.

“Renters are hard on the units,” he said.

The neighborhood’s current residents will be moved to whatever housing is available throughout the reservation, Williams said. Housing officials are encouraging those families to stay in their transitional homes permanently, to make room in the new duplexes for more families who are currently on the waiting list, he said.

The duplexes will be built with about $3.5 million through the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, Williams said. The program, which is not specific to tribal housing, allows companies to invest in low-income housing in exchange for tax credits. The money will also pay for five new homes near Quil Ceda Creek, he said.

Only the concrete slab foundations of the old homes will remain. They will be used as the foundation for two-car garages that attach to each side of the duplex. The new homes will have two to four bedrooms and will range from 1,000 to 1,300 square feet.

A row of duplexes nearest the water will be single-story, Williams said. Housing officials will try to fill those units with senior citizens and disabled tribal members. Another row of duplexes closer to Marine Drive will be two-story, to allow for water views for every neighborhood resident. Cedar saplings will be planted between the units, and a hedge is planned to act as a sound and privacy barrier between the neighborhood and Marine Drive.

Construction is scheduled to be completed by September 2009.

Once built, the units will house families whose incomes are between 30 percent and 50 percent of the federal poverty threshold, Williams said. All the families who currently live in the Ezra Hatch Road neighborhood would qualify to live in a new duplex.

New homes signal a new era for tribal members who have waited through the Tulalip Tribes’ housing department’s challenges, which faced charges of embezzlement and inappropriate use of funds in several rounds of investigation. Federal HUD officials said in 2006 that the department resolved all outstanding issues, and the department’s funding was restored.

Yakama tribal member Raymond Paul, 53, has lived with his Tulalip girlfriend on Ezra Hatch Road for 13 years. Even when times were tough for the tribes’ housing leaders, Paul said he and his family stayed warm and dry in their home.

Paul said he’s happy that new homes will be built, even if he must move away for it to happen.

“We really like it here, but if they want to rebuild, that’s up to the tribe,” he said.

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