By JOSEPH MARTIN
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Citing a need to better serve tribal members’ housing needs, Tribal Council passed an ordinance to combine the services of Qualla Housing Authority (QHA) and tribal Housing and Community Development at the Dec. 6 session. Travis Smith, secretary of Housing and Community Development, said, “The services of Qualla Housing, they’re not going away.”
With the merger real and personal property belonging to QHA is vested in and belongs to the tribe. All judgments, liens, rights of liens and causes of action of any nature in favor of QHA remains and is vested in benefit to the Tribe. Legal actions taken by QHA, whether pending against or taken by QHA continues as if the dissolution hadn’t occurred, and the Tribe is to be a party to such actions. The Tribe also assumes any obligations of QHA, including debts. QHA’s rules, regulations and policies will continue in full force.
The Tribe can set its own eligibility standards for housing, which could make a difference to casino and tribal employees seeking housing, but their incomes made them ineligible for services through QHA. Average salaries for casino and tribal employees are about $45,000. “This has been talked about for a long time,” said Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell and QHA board member. “I’m hearing from a lot of employees that they’re just tired of it sitting out there.”
Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah said that the tribe needs to start building houses. “I think this is the right direction to do that. We’re not really losing Qualla Housing.”
Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle praises the passing in conjunction with land in Coopers Creek going into trust. “This is great timing.”
Vice Chief B. Ensley, who’s been in tribal government for more than 20 years, said there were some good people who’ve been involved with QHA. “We knew it was coming at some point in time. We’ve got to come up with innovative ideas to put people in houses.”
Qualla Housing Authority has had its share of controversy recently. FBI agents raided the facility in February of 2017 and removed file cabinets full of documents. An Oct. 14, 2016 letter to then QHA Director Charlene Owle from Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Lee Edwards stated they were investigating allegations of fraud in the federally-funded program, and the program was instructed to not destroy any paper or electronic documents.
Questions about duplicating services, and costs of using outside services for accounting were also concerns. Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed said at the Nov. 1 session of council that merging the two programs’ services would save $2.5 million.
Chief Sneed said that through 10 years of audits, among the repeat findings is poor record keeping. He also said duplicating services is costing the tribe money. “This is ten years plus of audits.” Other issues Chief Sneed raised, particularly regarding how many homes had been built, were related to many tribal members not qualifying for some services because income levels have increased.
Smith said the changes would make the tribe the recipient of federal housing funds to address needs that are constantly growing. “With your support I hope we can continue to make that grow and provide housing not only for our enrolled members, but outsiders too. There’s revenue opportunity there also.”