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Navajo Council Considers Bennett Freeze Home-Repair Funds

Ryan Williams/Navajo-Hopi Observer

The Navajo Nation Council wants to devote funds to help residents in one of the tribe’s poorest areas repair their homes. Federal policy banned all building projects in the community formerly known as the Bennett Freeze for four decades. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The Navajo Nation Council has proposed spending $1.6 million to renovate and replace more than 60 homes. About 8,000 people occupy the 1.5-million-acre area formerly known as the Bennett Freeze in northeastern Arizona.

The federal government prohibited all building and development there in the 1960s because of a land-ownership dispute between the Navajo and Hopi tribes. Economic activity came to a halt, and residents were even barred from making basic home improvements. Congress repealed the freeze in 2009, but unemployment and poverty are widespread, and many homes have become dilapidated.

"I visited some homes that are in serious conditions," says Navajo Nation Council Walter Phelps. "Just because you don’t replace the roof, the water leaks in and it ruins the insulation, it ruins the sheetrock. And then if it goes into the walls, it just destroys everything. There’s mold, there’s mildew, there’s all sorts of hazards created.”

If the bill becomes law, the funds would be administered by the tribe’s Division of Community Development. The agency would allocate the money for building materials, basic maintenance and home repairs.

The full council will now consider the spending bill.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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