Tribal mem­bers evicted in push to clean up hous­ing

The Daily Herald - - LOCAL NEWS - By Phil Ferolito and Molly Ros­bach Yakima Her­ald-Repub­lic

WAPATO — For the past few weeks, Stephanie Ship­pen­tower and Bil­lie Shoul­derblade have been help­ing ren­o­vate homes at a Yakama Na­tion hous­ing project they were re­cently kicked out of.

Shoul­derblade was long be­hind on her rent. Ship­pen­tower had been caught liv­ing there with her dad af­ter she was evicted two years ago be­cause of re­peated po­lice calls to her house.

Both women are among a wave of evic­tions that be­gan in June, the largest the tribe has seen in re­cent his­tory, with more than 270 tribal mem­bers kicked out of hous­ing across the 1.2 mil­lion-acre reser­va­tion for vi­o­lat­ing lease agree­ments.

Yakama Na­tion Hous­ing Au­thor­ity of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edge that rules have long been ig­nored in at least one hous­ing project, where over­crowd­ing from unau­tho­rized ten­ants for years fos­tered drug use, crime and un­kempt prop­er­ties. While the push to clean up hous­ing projects is sud­den and dras­tic, hous­ing of­fi­cials say some­thing has to be done to im­prove the qual­ity of life.

Many of those evicted — more than 50 fam­i­lies and 130 peo­ple, in­clud­ing Shoul­derblade and Ship­pen­tower — have taken refuge at the tribe’s RV park in Top­pen­ish, where they are liv­ing in tents and are al­lowed to use re­strooms, show­ers and laun­dry fa­cil­i­ties. The tribe is pro­vid­ing food daily.

“My kids aren’t used to sleep­ing in tents,” said Shoul­derblade, who’s liv­ing in a tent with her seven chil­dren and hus­band. “It broke my heart to see my kids suf­fer.”

A bulk of the evic­tions have been at the Apas Goudy hous­ing project in east Wapato, where a mas­sive $14 mil­lion project to re­fur­bish the tat­tered homes there is un­der­way.

But fund­ing re­quire­ments for the project prompted Hous­ing Au­thor­ity to step up en­force­ment of rules that had largely gone ig­nored for years at Apas Goudy, where crime and drugs have been com­mon, said Hous­ing Au­thor­ity Di­rec­tor Craig Dougall.

That fund­ing comes from a state hous­ing pro­gram, in which in­vestors fund the project up­front and reap tax cred­its for 10 years. Those in­vestors set re­quire­ments to en­sure that the prop­erty is main­tained, and the re­quire­ments are more strin­gent than reg­u­la­tions set by the Fed­eral Hous­ing Au­thor­ity, Dougall said.

“I’d say my po­si­tion is we’re run­ning into ex­treme so­cial con­di­tions, so­cial prob­lems with crime, with over­crowd­ing. A num­ber of these is­sues come with a hous­ing park with no rules be­ing en­forced,” Dougall said. “The Hous­ing Au­thor­ity has had a hand in these poor con­di­tions. Hope­fully (we’re) hon­est enough to ad­mit our own fail­ures and strong enough to ad­dress them.”

Now Shoul­derblade and Ship­pen­tower have taken jobs with the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity as a way to make up for past prob­lems and get back into per­ma­nent hous­ing.

On this re­cent af­ter­noon, both women la­bored on de­mo­li­tion work in­side one home at the project.

“My hope is to get back on my feet and take care of my kids,” said Ship­pen­tower, mother of five chil­dren ages 2 through 19. “It’s go­ing good now — I’m learn­ing a lot. It’s tem­po­rary, but they said (the job) could go into a per­ma­nent po­si­tion.”

Pro­vid­ing a safe and clean en­vi­ron­ment for chil­dren is the thrust be­hind re­fur­bish­ing the hous­ing project, Dougall said.

“There are many good ten­ants and we owe them the pro­tec­tions pro­vided by our poli­cies and mis­sion for safe, de­cent and af­ford­able hous­ing,” he said. “We are not judg­ing our mem­ber­ship, but we are re­spon­si­ble for the con­di­tions of our hous­ing parks. We need to take this re­spon­si­bil­ity more se­ri­ously.”

But the move hasn’t come without con­tro­versy. Sev­eral evicted tribal mem­bers who re­fused to be iden­ti­fied, say­ing they feared re­tal­i­a­tion from the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity, said they were given lit­tle no­tice and that the en­force­ment ac­tion was too sud­den and harsh.

Not so, says grants and hous­ing co­or­di­na­tor De­bra White­foot. Let­ters were sent to ten­ants early last year in­form­ing them of the re­fur­bish­ing project, fund­ing re­quire­ments and what would be ex­pected to meet those re­quire­ments and com­mu­nity meet­ings were held, she said.

“They knew over a year ago that this was com­ing,” she said.

Big chal­lenge

The Yakima Hous­ing Au­thor­ity is a tribal agency that op­er­ates 750 homes and du­plexes stretch­ing across the Lower Yakima Val­ley from Top­pen­ish to White Swan. It also pro­vides re­pairs and other ser­vices to more than 3,000 homes oc­cu­pied by tribal mem­bers on the reser­va­tion. Hous­ing em­ploys about 120 work­ers, most of them tribal mem­bers.

Apas Gaudy, a project of 58 homes and du­plexes on Larena Lane on Wapato’s east side, has been one of its big­gest chal­lenges.

Meth labs were dis­cov­ered at four houses dur­ing the evic­tions, each cost­ing some $40,000 to clean up, Hous­ing Di­rec­tor Dougall said, largely blam­ing out­siders who found tribal mem­bers and the project easy prey for drug op­er­a­tions be­cause of lax polic­ing.

“This one hous­ing project is not re­flec­tive of Yakama cul­ture at all,” said Dougall, who was hired by the tribe a year and a half ago. “This is a com­plete col­lapse. I said we’ve got to ad­dress the drug cul­ture here be­cause we’ve got too many good peo­ple, chil­dren and el­ders liv­ing here too.”

The hous­ing project has a ca­pac­ity of about 180 res­i­dents, but the hous­ing au­thor­ity found more than 500 peo­ple liv­ing there. For ex­am­ple, 18 peo­ple were found liv­ing in one three­bed­room home, Dougall said.

“We can’t blame tribal mem­bers who take in fam­ily in need, as is cus­tom­ary within the Yakama cul­ture. We can blame our­selves for not hav­ing the dis­ci­pline to build more hous­ing for our mem­ber­ship over the years.”

Of the au­tho­rized ten­ants at Apas Goudy, 178 were evicted, he said.

There’s also an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of about $1.5 mil­lion in un­paid rent at all hous­ing projects, he said.

But the neigh­bor­hood hasn’t al­ways been that way, said White­foot, who lived there as a child in the early 1970s. “Years ago, Apas Goudy was a nice hous­ing project,” she said. “The park was nice — ev­ery­one had nice yards, lawns.”

Lease agree­ments re­quire ten­ants to pass drug tests, re­main cur­rent on rent and take care of the prop­erty. But White­foot said changes in tribal lead­er­ship over the years as well as dif­fer­ences in phi­los­o­phy over how to run the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity led to less en­force­ment.

Now, cur­rent tribal lead­ers want to change that.

Tribal lead­ers couldn’t be im­me­di­ately reached for com­ment be­fore leav­ing for North Dakota, where they’ve joined other tribes in protest of a pro­posed oil pipe­line.

“They see a need to send a dif­fer­ent mes­sage to the peo­ple, pro­vide a pos­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment for the chil­dren,” White­foot said.

Con­tro­ver­sial move

Evic­tions were trig­gered in the process of re­lo­cat­ing ten­ants in the hous­ing project to tem­po­rary hous­ing else­where while homes are be­ing re­fur­bished, Dougall said.

Those who are cur­rent on their rent and pass drug tests will be placed tem­po­rar­ily in al­ter­na­tive hous­ing un­til their homes are re­built, while those who don’t meet the re­quire­ments are evicted, he said.

“But there was no ini­tial plan to launch a mass evic­tion,” Dougall said.

If any­one in a fam­ily failed a drug test, the en­tire fam­ily was evicted, he said.

A com­bi­na­tion of un­paid rent and failed drug tests was re­spon­si­ble for most evic­tions, White­foot said.

But a group of seven evicted ten­ants who met with a Yakima Her­aldRepub­lic reporter ar­gue oth­er­wise. They wouldn’t pro­vide their names for pub­li­ca­tion, cit­ing a fear of be­ing black­listed from fu­ture tribal hous­ing pro­grams.

They com­plained of un­fair drug tests, and ac­cused the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity of train­ing staff “on the spot” to con­duct uri­nal­y­sis drug test. They also say col­lec­tion cups were used by more than one ten­ant, and merely rinsed af­ter each use.

Evicted ten­ants say Hous­ing re­fused to ac­cept the neg­a­tive test re­sult from a pro­fes­sional drug treat­ment fa­cil­ity of a wo­man who was con­test­ing Hous­ing’s re­sults. Ten­ants dis­put­ing screen­ings had the op­tion of get­ting tested by an out­side pro­fes­sional, and Hous­ing would pay for it if the re­sults were neg­a­tive.

Hous­ing Di­rec­tor Dougall said two ten­ants were tested again by a lo­cal drug treat­ment provider. Re­sults of one test were over­turned af­ter learn­ing the ten­ant was on pre­scribed painkillers while the other was up­held be­cause of co­caine use, he said.

Dougall said he has staff that are cer­ti­fied by a na­tional drug test sup­plier in ad­min­is­ter­ing drug screens.

Evicted ten­ants also blame hous­ing for not ful­fill­ing its side of lease agree­ments, let­ting homes fall into dis­re­pair.

Res­i­dents de­scribed homes where peo­ple had to use chains for door locks; where as­bestos was com­mon in the walls and floor­ing; where, no mat­ter how much they cleaned, cock­roaches would man­age to get in­side through the con­nect­ing pipes be­tween struc­tures.

“Hous­ing al­lowed the homes to go down the way they did,” one evicted ten­ant said. “They never took care of Apas. They knew about the prob­lem; they knew about the sit­u­a­tion in the homes.”

Dougall said of­ten ten­ants re­fused to al­low Hous­ing Au­thor­ity staff into the homes to con­duct an­nual in­spec­tions and that over­crowd­ing led to much of the wear and tear.

“As a re­sult, the home de­te­ri­o­rates far more than you would ex­pect,” he said.

Ten­ants can ap­peal evic­tions be­fore a board ap­pointed by the Yakama Tribal Coun­cil. Although sev­eral ten­ants chal­lenged the evic­tions, none were over­turned. Dougall said.

Con­tro­versy of­ten sur­rounds ef­forts to clean up hous­ing projects, said U.S. De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment spokesman Le­land Jones in Seat­tle.

“My im­pres­sion would be the Yakama Hous­ing Au­thor­ity isn’t the first to face this chal­lenge and it won’t be the last,” he said. “To its credit, I think what the Yakama Hous­ing Au­thor­ity is say­ing ‘We’re not go­ing to take it any­more,’ and that’s a tough thing for a hous­ing au­thor­ity to do. They’re putting their foot down.”

Cul­tural change

Stan­dards have to be met if liv­ing con­di­tions are to im­prove in the hous­ing project, Dougall said. To that end, Hous­ing is of­fer­ing those evicted em­ploy­ment, ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams and even ac­cess to sub­stance abuse re­cov­ery pro­grams.

Dis­placed ten­ants who com­mit to sub­stance abuse treat­ment or any other needed ser­vices to help them im­prove will be al­lowed into tran­si­tional hous­ing and even­tu­ally into per­ma­nent hous­ing, Dougall said.

In Jan­uary, the tribe pur­chased a 41-unit apart­ment com­plex at 310 S. Ah­tanum St. in Wapato that’s now be­ing used as tran­si­tional hous­ing for the home­less as well as hous­ing for home­less veter­ans.

The tribe also pur­chased the for­mer ar­mory on Di­vi­sion Street in Top­pen­ish that it plans to use as a home­less shel­ter, and has ap­plied for 100 trail­ers from the Fed­eral Emer­gency Management Agency that will be used for tran­si­tional hous­ing.

Dougall said ten­ants who have been evicted will be al­lowed into the shel­ter when win­ter comes. If they com­mit to treat­ment or agree to be­gin work­ing off any un­paid rent, they will be al­lowed into tran­si­tional hous­ing, and even­tu­ally into per­ma­nent hous­ing if they stay the course, he said.

“Our sin­cere hope is that peo­ple who are af­fected by this get help and get all the ser­vices the tribe pro­vides and de­velop a sus­tain­able life­style,” Dougall said. “If we can de­velop a gen­er­a­tion of sus­tain­able par­ents, then the chil­dren will see that and fol­low.”

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