Pue­blo project is trans­form­ing plaza

Albuquerque Journal - - JOURNAL NORTH - BY ME­GAN BEN­NETT

Restora­tion work at Ohkay Owingeh bring­ing life back

The adobe home that has been passed down on the mother’s side of Thanay Bin­ford’s fam­ily for sev­eral gen­er­a­tions sits on the out­skirts of Ohkay Owingeh Pue­blo’s his­toric plaza area.

But the 41-year-old res­i­dent, who moved back to his child­hood com­mu­nity last year and is now project man­ager for the Hous­ing Author­ity, says the one-story adobe home down the road from St. John the Bap­tist Catholic Church is no one’s pri­mary res­i­dence, but rather a cen­tral hub for the en­tire ex­tended fam­ily.

It’s used to house guests or dur­ing spe­cial oc­ca­sions such as dances and for fam­ily mem­bers who be­come tribal of­fi­cials to use when needed.

Bin­ford and his fam­ily live on an­other street out­side of the his­toric area.

His tra­di­tional fam­ily home is one of 15 old adobe homes set to be re­ha­bil­i­tated dur­ing the next phase of Ohkay Owingeh’s plaza restora­tion project, a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar

project, in­volv­ing nearly 60 homes, that has moved away from re­ly­ing on fed­eral dol­lars and is now seek­ing funds for the re­main­ing restora­tions through pri­vate do­na­tions.

Re­gard­ing the old fam­ily home, Bin­ford said, “We have a func­tion­ing cen­tral unit (for oc­ca­sions), but we have two parts on the out­skirts that are just col­laps­ing on them­selves.”

Bin­ford said restor­ing and open­ing up the in­side of the home would cre­ate liv­ing space, rather than a place where peo­ple come in and out.

That way, he says, he and his fam­ily of five, in­clud­ing kids ages 18, 16 and 10, could stay per­ma­nently in the old home and the ad­di­tional space would al­low them to pro­vide for other fam­ily mem­bers on those spe­cial days.

His fam­ily then would also live in what Bin­ford re­ferred to as the “re­vived” plaza area.

“I’d love to see it back as a whole com­mu­nity,” he said of the area sur­round­ing his fam­ily home. “Back to the way our an­ces­tors were: a cen­tral lo­ca­tion and ev­ery­one’s home is filled.”

The Owe’neh Bupingeh Plaza Restora­tion project has al­ready re­stored 34 de­te­ri­o­rat­ing homes, which were ei­ther aban­doned or only par­tially used.

Project fund­ing in­cluded about $9 mil­lion in fed­eral money over four phases of build­ing, ac­cord­ing to Hous­ing Author­ity Di­rec­tor To­m­a­sita Du­ran. She added that the project was jump-started by a $2 mil­lion award through the U.S. Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment’s Amer­i­can Rein­vest­ment and Re­cov­ery Act.

With the fed­eral fund­ing, Du­ran said, in­come de­ter­mined which fam­i­lies would qual­ify for as­sis­tance.

“What we started to learn as we pro­gressed through the phases, and now we’re in the last few phases, is some fam­i­lies on the list don’t qual­ify for that type of fund­ing.”

Go­ing for­ward, Ohkay Owingeh has al­ready been awarded a $500,000 af­ford­able hous­ing tax credit from the New Mex­ico Mort­gage Fi­nance Author­ity and a W.K. Kel­logg Foun­da­tion do­na­tion to hire a de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer, and now they’re look­ing into ways to garner in­ter­est from in­di­vid­ual donors or groups.

Pri­vate donors who give more than $200 qual­ify for a 50 per­cent tax credit to­ward any state tax li­a­bil­ity owed.

“Fundrais­ing from the pri­vate sec­tor is great ve­hi­cle for telling this story in gen­eral,” said Les­lie Colley, who took the de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer job in July. She de­scribed the strat­egy as a more sus­tain­able long-term op­tion. “A lot of peo­ple don’t know this story and it’s one of the most in­no­va­tive tribal hous­ing projects in the coun­try.”

The project has re­ceived sev­eral awards, in­clud­ing one in 2014 from the Na­tional Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion.

Like the other adobes, the next 15 homes will be re­stored with cul­tural preser­va­tion stan­dards and re­quire­ments for the own­ers: It has to be a fam­ily’s pri­mary res­i­dence and the fam­ily must keep up main­te­nance with chores like mud plas­ter­ing.

Since 2010, 42 fam­i­lies have been able to move back into homes on the plaza, as op­posed to the 12 fam­i­lies who lived there in 2005 when the project be­gan.

“It was very quiet, al­most dead,” Du­ran said of the plaza at that time, when only 56 houses re­mained in an area that in years past had likely reached around 200. “Now, it’s come to life.”

Lt. Gov. Matthew Martinez, Bin­ford’s cousin, who also uses the fam­ily home on oc­ca­sion, shared the same sen­ti­ment about the area’s trans­for­ma­tion. “There’s been a surge of en­ergy,” he said.

Around sev­eral of the re­ha­bil­i­tated homes, a visi­tor can see fam­ily touches like toys scat­tered across the front yard, added-on porches, pot­ted plants and bas­ket­ball hoops.

Four houses also have an added sec­ond story.

To date, in­clud­ing the tax cred­its, the Hous­ing Author­ity has raised $236,000, said Du­ran. The goal now is to be­gin the next phase in 2019 if $3.5 mil­lion can be raised by next year.

“That sounds re­ally ag­gres­sive, but we have to stay ag­gres­sive on this project, stay in tune and move as fast as we pos­si­bly can,” she said.

While the project brings vis­ual beauty back to the pue­blo, Colley and Du­ran said its im­pact is deeper than that. Not only do more peo­ple at­tend tra­di­tional feast days and dances, but also it brings back a sense of iden­tity and pride into the cen­turies-old com­mu­nity, they said.

“With that, our cul­ture con­tin­ues on for many gen­er­a­tions,” said Du­ran. “Our chil­dren grow up in the plaza, in th­ese homes, and also keep the strength to the cul­ture and the lan­guage.”

Les­lie Colley, de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer for the Ohkay Owingeh Hous­ing Author­ity, walks by one of the old homes around the pue­blo’s his­toric area that is slated for restora­tion.

Ohkay Owingeh Pue­blo is restor­ing many of the old homes in its his­toric area. The home on the right has been re­stored, while the one on the left still needs help.


Thanay Bin­ford, a prop­erty man­ager with the Ohkay Owingeh Hous­ing Author­ity, stands in front of his fam­ily home near the pue­blo’s plaza. Of­fi­cials at Ohkay Owingeh Pue­blo are restor­ing many of the old homes in the his­toric area and are plan­ning to re­store Bin­ford’s. They are look­ing for pri­vate fund­ing to start the next phase of restora­tion.

Ohkay Owingeh Hous­ing Author­ity Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor To­m­a­sita Du­ran, left, and Les­lie Colley, the de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer, talk about some of the old homes in the pue­blo’s his­toric area that they have re­stored, and the ones they still plan to.

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