The Lobo Rainforest Building was the site last Friday morning for an announcement that will help UNM’s Navajo Nation students fulfill their mission to graduate from the state’s flagship university. The Navajo Nation and UNM have signed an agreement that will allow the students to rent apartments on the fifth and sixth floors of the Rainforest Building. The agreement is part of a nationwide effort and the first of its kind on the part of the Navajo Nation to help its students find suitable housing, the issue students struggle with most as they pursue higher education. The students will also have opportunities to participate in Innovation Academy and STC.UNM programs and activities that train students in entrepreneurial skills.
The event was attended by students, UNM administration including Regent President Robert Doughty and Executive VP & COO David Harris, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez, STC CEO & Chief Economic Development Officer Lisa Kuuttila, Innovation Academy Executive Director Robert DelCampo, STC Board Chair Sandra Begay, and Innovate ABQ Board Vice Chair Terry Laudick. See Jessica Dyer’s January 12, 2018 article, “UNM, Navajo Nation strike deal for student housing,” from the Albuquerque Journal, and Daniel Jiron’s January 12, 2018 article, “The University of New Mexico and Navajo Nation announce student housing partnership,” from the UNM Newsroom, reprinted below.
UNM, Navajo Nation strike deal for student housing
UNM, Navajo Nation strike deal for student housing
By Jessica Dyer / Journal Staff Writer
Published: Friday, January 12th, 2018 at 1:34pm
Updated: Friday, January 12th, 2018 at 10:03pm
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There is no word for rainforest in the Navajo language, but Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez says it is probably time.
More than 100 Navajo students will have affordable access to the housing at the University of New Mexico’s Lobo Rainforest through a new partnership between the tribe and the state’s largest university.
Navajo Nation and university leaders on Friday announced the tribe would help up to 118 students cover rent at the apartment-style residence hall at Innovate ABQ in Downtown Albuquerque. It’s the first such partnership for the Navajo Nation, which aims to expand the program to other colleges and universities to prevent housing costs from derailing students’ educational goals.
Navajo students can get scholarships for tuition, but officials say many struggle with living expenses. They report some have resorted to couch surfing or even living in cars. Karis Begaye, who spearheaded the project as legal counsel in the Navajo Nation’s Office of the President and Vice President, said housing-related financial hardships compel some to drop out.
“We can give them all the scholarships for tuition, but if they don’t have a place to stay or they don’t have a place to study, it makes it very difficult for our students, and some of them have to drop out of school,” she said during a news conference. “This is one way to address that so our students don’t have to worry about anything. All they have to worry about is getting their education, getting their degree and then coming back to the Navajo Nation and helping our people.”
Begaye said she is already in discussions with UNM about a more long-term plan to build an entirely new Navajo residence hall.
Nez called Friday a celebratory occasion and reason to translate rainforest into the tribal language.
“We don’t have a rainforest (on the Navajo Nation),” he joked. “We’ve got to get a Navajo term for that.”
Currently, 232 UNM students self-identify as Navajos, but officials believe there are likely more enrolled.
The agreement with UNM runs through July 31, 2021. The tribe will pay the regular rate for each Rainforest space – currently $650. The first 19 months’ amount to $1,457,300. Students will share some rental costs with the tribe, but the details are still being finalized. They will occupy the six-story building’s top two floors.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye touted the Rainforest for its modern amenities – each two-bedroom unit has a kitchen, washer and dryer – and its ability to cultivate ideas. A centerpiece of the Innovate ABQ site at Broadway and Central, the building has street-level commercial space with tenants like Sandia National Laboratories and Air Force Research Laboratory.
“This environment is an incredible environment,” Russell Begaye said while standing next to a sixth-floor study area. “It’s not just about living here, and having a warm place to stay and (having) a nice facility; it’s more about creating ideas, about coming up with ideas.”
The Rainforest, which debuted in August, struggled to meet residential occupancy goals in the fall with fewer than 100 students for its 300 spots. The regents approved $520,000 in reserves to help cover the university’s lease payment this fiscal year. The Navajo Nation agreement should help ensure the building breaks even by 2019, UNM Real Estate Director Tom Neale said.
The University of New Mexico and Navajo Nation announce student housing partnership
By Daniel Jiron January 12, 2018
The University of New Mexico and Navajo Nation have announced a partnership to provide residence hall space for 118 Navajo students at Lobo Rainforest, UNM’s newest housing option, located in the innovation district of downtown Albuquerque.
“One of the primary reasons for the high college dropout rate for Native Americans is due to financial distress,” President Russell Begaye said. “With student housing provided by the Navajo Nation, we can alleviate some of this burden off our students and support them in reaching their full potential.”
Navajo students will occupy the entire fifth and sixth floors of the facility, 118 beds in 59 rooms, in a space that reflects the cultural and historical values of the Nation. The term of the agreement is three years and seven months starting on Jan. 1, 2018 and ending on July 31, 2021. For the initial period of the agreement, the Navajo Nation will pay UNM the sum of $1,457,300 for occupancy of the fifth and sixth floors of the building.
“This partnership will help Navajo students pursue degrees in STEM and other fields,” said UNM Interim President Chaouki Abdallah. “I applaud the Navajo Nation for taking the initiative to place them in a comfortable and synergistic environment. Through our many current and planned academic support services, UNM is excited to partner with the Navajo Nation to ensure the success of our students.”
Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez said, “This is an opportunity to invest in future professionals who will return to the Navajo Nation to improve our government, businesses and quality of life.”
“With the Lobo Rainforest agreement, not only will we see the costs decrease for our college students but we will create a strong sense of community to ultimately increase retention and continue to support our children,” he added.
The two-bedroom, two-bath apartment-style units are furnished, including a full kitchen with a dishwasher, and a washer and dryer. UNM will provide all utilities, internet service and routine maintenance. The Navajo Nation will determine eligibility for Navajo students who wish to live in the Rainforest Building.
Pricing for the final two years of the agreement will be determined each August, based on the overall rate for UNM students. The fixed fee is based on the total number of beds and not contingent on occupancy.
Navajo students interested in this initiative can find more information at Navajo Nation Community or by calling Residence Life and Student Housing at 505.277.2606.
For more information, visit Lobo Rainforest.