Tulalip housing grants depend on OK of audits

TULALIP – After years of mismanagement in the now defunct Tulalip Tribes Housing Authority, there may be an end in sight for the 350 families who linger on waiting lists for affordable housing .

Tribal leaders plan to submit final audits on the housing authority for 2001 through 2004 within weeks – two months before a federally imposed May 31 deadline.

Michael O’Leary / Herald file photo

The Tulalip Tribes hope to resume construction of housing, such as these homes built in 2004, following approval from federal officials.

If those audits pass muster with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials, the tribe will reclaim access to more than $5 million in frozen Indian housing block grant funds.

“The bottom line is, we’re coming to a closure on all the problems the tribe had with its former housing authority,” tribal housing department director Charles Anderson said.

Anderson was hired in January 2005, five months after the tribe disbanded its housing authority and re-formed it as the housing department under the direct supervision of the tribal board of directors.

Together with about $2 million in funds from a 2005 grant and $1.8 million from an undisbursed grant this year, the tribe will have more than $9 million to provide affordable homes for low-income tribal members.

The tribe’s access to the money was suspended last April in an ongoing investigation into the tribe’s fiscal management. The tribe was asked to submit audits to prove that federal grant money was being used appropriately, Anderson said.

Once all the audits are submitted, HUD will review them for ineligible expenditures, HUD spokeswoman Pam Negri said. As part of a settlement reached in October, the tribe agreed to pay back those expenditures or allow them to be deducted from its HUD account.

HUD’s review of the audits could be completed within 60 days, Negri said.

The 178 families on the list for rental housing have an average income of less than $15,000 a year. Seventy-one families are on a list for a low-income homeownership program. Those families have an average income of $28,000 a year.

“We have a lot of families that are even doubling up and tripling up in homes,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of overcrowded families. We have a lot of families that are living in substandard housing conditions. They’re all waiting for housing on the reservation.”

While families were waiting, HUD officials found evidence in 2003 that the housing authority had spent HUD funds on expensive dinners, whale-watching excursions, computers and luxuries.

In anticipation of a return to good standing with HUD, the tribe sent out surveys in February to every tribal member over the age of 16 asking them to rate the condition of their current living situation.

Members who do not live on the reservation were asked to pick reservation amenities that would need to improve or be created before they would consider moving onto tribal land.

The surveys are available through the Tulalip Tribes Housing Department, and are due by the end of this month.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

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