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December 3, 1996
Rules applied unevenly, say critics at HUD
Officials of the Department of Housing and Urban Development are selective in their enforcement of rules and regulations in the program, say critics including some people with the department.
Tony Arroyos, the housing consultant who unsuccessfully tried to persuade HUD's Albuquerque office to make a thorough investigation of apparent violations at the Northern Pueblos Housing Authority, is among those who think politics was at work.
The failure to investigate reflects an arbitrary approach not
uncommon among Indian-housing officials at HUD, Arroyos said. While
HUD ignored those problems, its investigators put a full-court press
on another Indian-housing agency down the road.
The director of that housing authority, Mike Sisneros, was eventually forced to resign. Sisneros insisted he had inherited the problems when he took over the agency four years ago, and had publicly blamed HUD for many of them.
Asked why the Albuquerque-based housing agency was treated so differently from the Northern Pueblos agency, HUD facilities-management specialist Kim Forrester said the allegations against the All Indian Pueblos seemed more serious. Also, he said, the investigation was more convenient, with the All Indian Pueblos office just blocks from HUD's New Mexico headquarters. The Northern Pueblos office is 72 miles away.
Another explanation was inadvertently offered by a high-ranking HUD official in Phoenix.
Raphael Mecham, administrator of HUD's Southwest Office of Native American Programs, whose jurisdiction includes New Mexico, said he and Northern Pueblos Director David Perez had been friends for 13 years. He described Perez as one of the best Indian-housing leaders in the country.
In the same interview, Mecham said he deeply resented Sisneros of All Indian Pueblos because of personal attacks Sisneros had made on him and other HUD officials.
"He has written articles in Indian Country Today," a national newspaper for Native Americans. "He has taken to the press to promote his attitudes and his ideas," Mecham said.
Mecham even suggested that The Seattle Times ignore the Northern Pueblos the way his agency had.
"I don't think your story is at Northern," he said. "It's one of our better housing authorities. You should focus on All Indian."
Mecham later promised a thorough investigation of the allegations at Northern Pueblos in response to the inquiries by The Times. That investigation consisted of a half-day visit to the housing-authority office by Forrester, followed by a brief letter to The Times stating that everything was OK.
Jo Ann Teiken, who until recently was a financial-management specialist for the Indian program, said leniency toward certain housing-authority directors and punishment of others is encouraged at the highest levels.
Teiken, who still works in HUD's Washington, D.C., headquarters but not for the Indian program, says the attitude starts with her former boss, Deputy Assistant Secretary Dominic Nessi.
"If you feel strongly about an issue and take a stand against him, against what he believes is correct, he finds ways to retaliate," said Teiken, a Native American who once worked in Washington state and who has tangled with Nessi over several issues. "If you do exactly what he wants and play like you are a good little Indian, then he strokes you good time."
Nessi denies he encourages favoritism, and dismisses Teiken as an embittered union activist.
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