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By Jess Macinko
News Editor 

Tribal housing plans focus of talks

 

Army Corps of Engineers

Land Changes?: A recent meeting in Dallesport addresses the possibility of new tribal housing in compensation for loss of fishing grounds.

Will properties in Dallesport and nearby areas be developed for Native American tribal housing? The short answer: probably. But few details have been set in stone.

The Dallesport-Murdock Community Center was all but full for a Thursday night public meeting on the proposed housing projects. Presentations by the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Yakama Nation Housing Authority (YNHA) addressed plans for two separate projects, both in pre-planning stages.

The projects address present-day consequences of a historic wrong. Beginning in 1934, Corps-led construction of the Bonneville, The Dalles, and John Day dams flooded native fishing settlements along the lower Columbia River. Loss of these sites displaced members of four regional tribes and limited their ability to exercise treaty-protected rights to fish "at all usual and accustomed stations."

Despite the creation of some replacement housing, homelessness and substandard living conditions remain prevalent among the descendants of the flooded communities. The Corps determined in 2013 that "between 44 and 85 tribal families who lived near the Bonneville and The Dalles dams prior to construction did not receive relocation assistance."

Further Corps assessment identified an unmet obligation to construct a replacement village for communities submerged by The Dalles Dam. At Thursday's meeting, Corps engineer and project manager Eric Stricklin discussed an effort to make good: The Dalles Dam Tribal Housing Village Development Plan.

The plan has identified three potential sites for replacement housing: Corps-owned properties near Spearfish Lake and the Horsethief Butte area of Columbia Hills State Park, and a privately owned parcel in Wishram the Corps would buy pending feasibility studies.

Stricklin said the three sites encompass about 45 buildable acres. The Corps will fully fund construction. Questions that remain unanswered at this time are who will operate and maintain the project, and how many people it will house.

The next step is further screening of the sites, including gathering public input. The Corps expects to schedule a public meeting in the next two to three months. The entire planning process is expected to take two and a half years. If the sites are found unfeasible, the Corps will evaluate others.

Yakama Nation Housing Authority

Members of the YNHA board of commissioners presented a development proposal for property in Dallesport. The project, which comprises 18 four-bed and 12 two- to three-bed homes, is intended for tribal families currently homeless along the Columbia River. The proposed site is a parcel known as the Hagen property, between Old Ferry Road and Sunridge Avenue.

The project hinges on a tax credit that's yet to be approved by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. Presuming they are awarded the tax credit and all goes as planned, YNHA expects the project to be done by 2019.

Public concerns

The bulk of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting comprised public comment and questions. Key concerns included anticipated detriment to property values, strain on community resources, and removal of the properties from the tax base.

In short, Stricklin said it's too early in the Corps assessment process to address those concerns in detail. The two Corps-owned properties are already tax-exempt; the Wishram property would become so if developed as tribal housing. As for community impact, Stricklin said the Corps' vetting process would take that into account, both in terms of local input and feasibility studies.

The YNHA project will be owned by a private investor-an arrangement that necessitates strict tenant agreements, according to the YNHA board. "We have to evict people if they don't abide by the rules," said YNHA Secretary-Treasurer Randy Settler.

Jess Macinko

Full House: The Dallsport-Murdock Community Center was packed to capacity for the tribal housing meeting.

As with the Corps, YNHA's overall answer to community impact questions was that solutions would be found, but it's too early to discuss details. Tenants will pay for their use of utilities, and the project will cover the cost of hooking up to existing water and sewer lines. However, concerns that the project would use up Dallesport's capacity for further development-without contributing to expanding that capacity-went largely unaddressed.

Likewise, anticipated strain on law enforcement, firefighting, and school resources met with appeals to cooperation, but few specifics. Like any low-income housing, the YNHA project will be exempt from property tax. However, the project may be eligible for a payment in lieu of tax (PILOT) agreement.

For more information about the Corps' project, call (503) 808-4510. For more information about YNHA's project, visit ynha.com or call (509) 877-6171.

 

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