Washoe families earn titles to homes
There were cheers, chuckles and maybe a tear or two as individuals were handed the paperwork making them “homeowners” at a special event on Saturday in Dresslerville.
Some 80 members of the Washoe Tribe earned the title to their homes in 1999, and a festive barbecue and ceremonies were held at the Washoe Housing Authority office in their honor.
“This is your day,” said Vice Chair of the Washoe Tribe Willard Bennett. Bennett and Housing Director Virginia Kizer presented titles to the new homeowners after the barbecue.
“I didn’t think I would live long enough to pay it off,” said tribal elder JoAnn Martinez, who was one of the Dresslerville residents to receive her title at the event.
“I thank God for small favors,” she added with a grin.
Asked what she’s going to do now that her house payments are completed, she said she was going to “splurge.”
“I’m going to get myself some little luxuries,” she said.
The elder is a noted Washoe basketmaker and has traveled to Washington, D.C., and Hawaii as a representative of her people. She said she’s going to stay home and enjoy her house and her garden.
Martinez continues to give basket-making demonstrations at various events with her sister Theresa Jackson and others.
Pam Turner, who has been paying off her home with her sister and mother, said she doesn’t feel any different now that the home is paid for, but she is relieved not to have that payment each month.
“I’m really glad it’s over and done with,” Turner said. “I’m so happy. It seemed to take so long.”
Turner works at Carson Valley Inn and likes to spend time with her sister and her three nieces and nephews. She and her sister and the children live in the Dresslerville home. Being with her family is important to her, she said.
“I work six days,” she said, “then I take care of my family.”
Turner accepted the title on behalf of her mother, Unadell Turner, whose name is on the title of the house.
Violet Pete echoed the sentiments of Turner and Martinez.
“I’m happy – after 15 years, to actually own something that’s mine – it’s nice. I’m going to enjoy my house,” Pete said.
The average age of new homeowners is 45, with houses going to some young families and some elders.
According to Kizer, who has been with the tribal office for 25 years, the houses were built under a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Indian housing program. The homes are built with HUD funds, but the homeowners must pay them off over a period of 15 years.
The houses are spread among three Washoe residential areas, Dresslerville, Woodfords Colony and Carson Colony. The Washoe Housing Authority, once an independent entity, is now affiliated with the tribal government, Kizer said. It has a board made up of 12 members and 12 alternates.
Washoe Tribe members who wish to purchase a home submit an application. They must prove tribal membership and be 21 years of age. Houses are given out based on need and family size. The houses range in size from three to five bedrooms.
Homeowners do not own the land, however. Kizer said tribal land is held in trust, and residents may own their home and sell it or leave it through a will, but the land remains with the tribe.
This particular housing project is now completed with the distribution of the titles, Kizer said. There are no new units under development because of a cutback in funding, but the housing authority is managing three other projects begun in the past years.
Bennett said the tribe is seeking other resources to continue building new units.
“I’m very happy for these people,” Kizer said, “because from the way we grew up many years ago, I know many families including myself grew up in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
“Our goal is safe, sanitary housing for everyone who qualifies. To see them get title to their homes is unbelievable. It’s a first for many tribal members. Some have never left the reservation they are very happy and will be proud homeowners.”