By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed convened a Housing Summit on the morning of Friday, June 16 to look at processes and challenges with the tribal housing department. All of the senior management from the EBCI Executive Office and most, if not all, of the Tribal Council attended the meeting.
Jeremy Hyatt, EBCI Secretary of Administration, opened the meeting, stating, “(Housing) is one of the most pressing issues our Tribe is facing. The system is broken. The purpose of this meeting is to facilitate programs to get solutions.”
One of the presentations had to do with current processes. EBCI Housing and Community Development (HCD) officials provided two hand outs, one with the land transfer process and the other showing the building process as it is currently executed.
In the land transfer process, a person planning to secure land starts with a survey application. Once it is submitted, a document called the “long form”, which must be completed to accompany the survey application before a survey of the property, can be initiated. For a potential builder, getting to this point could take between 90 to 120 days. Once a person is on the list to be surveyed, it could be up to 90 days before a surveyor could get to the property because of current backlogs. Then the survey itself could take between 30 to 60 days to complete.
Once it is completed, a plat is returned to the BIA which then certifies the plat, which can take between 5 to 15 days. Then the transfer is initiated, which is another 15 to 30 days to complete. At this point, the transfer is ready to be signed. The applicant signing at the BIA can take anywhere from a day to months depending on the availability of the parties involved. Once the signatures are on the transfer, it goes to Tribal Business Committee for approval, which adds another 15 to 30 days. After Business Committee, the transfer must be ratified, taking another 15 to 30 days.
From the time a person initiates a transfer until the property is in there name currently takes a total of between 231 to 375 days.
Once the land is in a property owner’s name, a new process to build on the property begins. A new “long form” must be initiated, taking 30 to 60 days, and money is being borrowed and prequalification via a loan application must be completed, adding 5 to 10 days to the process.
There are also several regulatory compliances that must be fulfilled. For example, an infrastructure application must be completed and owners should allow 60 to 180 days for the construction process and 60 to 90 days for foundation construction. The owner must also apply for a 911 address.
A timber permit may be necessary if any trees will be disturbed. Endangered wildlife, such as bats and potentially spawning trout, must be specially handled and construction could be delayed or prohibited. Homes must also comply with the National Environment Protection Act (NEPA). Getting these certifications may take up to 150 days. Then, utilities applications add another 90 to 180 days to the process.
When these requirements have been met, a “Firm Commitment” document is sent to BIA and Infrastructure, notifying that the land owner is ready to do site work. Then the owner must have a surveyed right-of-way for an ownership statement to be processed, which may take 30 to 60 days. Then a lease and assignment goes to Business Committee for final approval…another 30 to 90-day wait. Once HCD receives the completed ownership statement, lease and assignment, and insurance binder, the house closing is scheduled within one to five business days. After the closing, a deed of trust is sent to BIA. BIA then sends it back to HCD, a five- to 10-day process. At this point, home construction may begin, which typically takes between 120 and 180 days.
Paula Wojtkowski, who works for Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort and has an extensive background in home development, gave a presentation regarding sustainable housing, focusing on Cob and Straw Bale constructions. Wojtkowski explained that “sustainable housing is defined as simply using or reusing local, natural, and abundant resources and materials that are replaceable at low cost based on geographic region. The average cost of a stick build home in North Carolina is $105 per square foot. An average for a sustainable house is much less expensive – pennies on the dollar. Sustainable houses, however are very labor intensive and require someone with experience to build.”
She showed examples of cob and straw bale houses, saying that they are friendlier to the environment that typical houses and, in some cases, more flexible in design.
Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith commented that the cob and straw bale designs have been popular as second homes in North Carolina. He also mentioned that North Carolina has “special circumstance” designation for cob home construction.
Per Rep. Smith, the insulator value or “R” rating (thermal resistance) of the cob construction material has an unknown rating, but the straw bale has a high “R” rating. He stated that there are cob homes located in Asheville. Wojtkowski suggested that the best idea for sustainable homes for our region would be a combination of cob and straw bale construction.
Members of the EBCI Office of Environmental and Natural Resources provided information on home air quality and issues with indoor air quality on the Qualla Boundary. Katie Tiger said, “Mold is a big issue.”
Misha Griffis provided information on air quality kits that are now available to home owners on the Qualla Boundary. Included in the kits are tests for radon and lead, moisture meters, humidity gauges, non-toxic pest strips, surface mold removal and green cleaning materials, and a carbon monoxide tester. The program has 100 of the test kits to provide to home owners willing to use the kits and participate in a survey that will be used to study and find solutions to air quality issues. The kit, valued at $200, is available while they last, from Environmental and Natural Resources offices. To request a kit, contact 828-359-6115 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chief Sneed facilitated additional discussion regarding the processes for securing a home which included program breakouts to try to access the current condition and solicit possible solutions or best practices for streamlining the process of land acquisition, approval of home sites, and construction. Challenges to the community regarding getting land and home included undivided estates, excessive and inequitable infrastructure costs, and regulatory requirements. A potential streamlining suggestion came from Jeremy Brown, EBCI Communications program, who suggested that new features in document software might allow for better project management and speed up the process of getting signatures and authorizations by doing so electronically.