As we count down to Marana's trip to Denver for the All-America City gathering, we're highlighting all the ways Marana is making its mark. Inspired by our farming and ranching heritage, we'll be highlighting Marana's official Branding Iron alongside many of the incredible people who make this Town an All-America City. Are you Making Your Mark on Marana? Let us know by using #MakingOurMark, and we may feature your story here.
There are lots of ways to fight poverty. Efforts to improve schools, create innovative social programs, and ensure food security often grab headlines, as well they should. The Town of Marana realizes, though, that these aren’t the only tools the government can use to help its poorest residents. Sometimes, that effort starts in the Town’s planning department.
Shannon Shula’s desk is in a row of cubicles on the second floor of the Marana Municipal Complex. Down the hall, behind a locked door, are decades of records documenting the Town’s official approval for developments, stretching back to Marana’s original incorporation in 1977. Buried in this archive is the original plan for a small property called Yoem Pueblo.
Owned by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and located just steps from town hall, Yoem Pueblo is home to a tightly knit community of Yaqui tribal members. Though the residents of Yoem Pueblo often struggle to make ends meet, their community has persevered. Along its one-lane street, grandparents live within earshot of grandchildren, and many of those grandparents grew up on this same street. The neighborhood’s longevity, though, has come at a high cost. Aging homes stand in desperate need of repair. Weeds grow thick between the houses. Wide, deep cracks cut across driveways.
Shannon Shula is trying to change all that.
Every year, the federal government makes funding available to local governments across the country in the form of Community Development Block Grants, or, in government-speak, CDBG. A formula determines how much a municipality will receive. In Marana, these funds help support housing rehabilitation projects, but with one mandatory string attached: any home benefiting from CDBG dollars must be owner-occupied. In most cases, this regulation makes perfect sense. If a tenant occupies a home, then the landlord should make improvements without a government subsidy. Yoem Pueblo, however, is the rare exception to this rule.
The landlord of these residents is the tribe itself, and many of the community members pay little or no rent. The Pascua Yaqui Tribe, like many Native American tribes and nations across the country, has limited financial resources. Consequently, it cannot afford to undertake the costly repairs required in many of these homes. However, neither can the tenants. Unless, of course, those tenants can become owners.
“When the Yaquis first established Yoem Pueblo years ago, they purchased two parcels of land, and, until recently, that was still the official layout of this neighborhood,” explains Shannon. “Our idea, however, was to re-plat the community, subdividing Yoem Pueblo so that each home occupies its own lot. Once we’ve re-drawn the map, essentially, the Pascua Yaqui can deed over the property to the residents themselves. Suddenly, they’ve gone from tenant to property owner.”
Easier said than done, however. Marana’s efforts to improve conditions in Yoem Pueblo began four years ago. Countless setbacks and challenges, though, have plagued the project. Shannon’s own effort began when she first joined the Town’s planning department in 2014, an effort which is finally starting to pay off.
Part of what has slowed progress in the past is the process itself. Replatted projects must conform to Marana’s zoning regulations, but Yoem Pueblo was constructed long before those regulations existed. Therefore, the only way for this land to be replatted is to receive variances from Marana’s Board of Adjustment. The neighborhood’s age meant that it would need many of these variances, each one requiring, at a minimum, several months.
Navigating this process demands persistence, and any number of obstacles can derail it at any point. Shannon, though, remained steadfast in her efforts to push forward, partly because of her own background. As a member of Hopi Nation herself, she shares many of their cultural traditions.
“Many of these residents are elderly. The Hopi and the Yaquis share a deep commitment to honoring our elders. We believe elders hold a wealth of experience and wisdom, and we owe them profound respect. I feel like it is my duty to serve these residents.”
During a Town Council meeting on April 5, Shannon’s replatting of Yoem Pueblo became official. A unanimous vote of the Council has allowed this project to proceed to the next stage, in which it is submitted to the Pima County Recorder’s Office. Once that office has processed the paperwork, the Pascua Yaquis can then deed over each lot to the current resident. At that point, the residents will then be eligible for CDBG dollars.
The replatting process has not happened overnight. Not content to wait idly during this time, the Town of Marana for years has offered a variety of services to Yoem Pueblo residents. For example, Code Enforcement Officer Lori Sheppard has spent many months working closely with these residents to provide landscaping assistance. She advises them about how far back vegetation must be cleared to be in compliance with the fire code. She coordinates neighborhood clean-ups, often with the help of a dumpster provided by the Town. Finally, Lori has collaborated with PPEP, Inc., a local non-profit, and Napa Auto Parts to help these residents dispose of old tires and motor oil.
“While we can’t use CDBG funding to help this community yet,” says Lori, “there are other ways we can improve this neighborhood. Most importantly, that means working with the residents to identify how we can be most helpful. The last thing we want to do is to just tell them what to do. This is their community, and we want to be a resource for them.”
Thick vegetation clogs one section of Yoem Pueblo prior to Lori Sheppard's work with residents to clear this section.
Same section after vegetation cleared away.
Marana strongly believes in ensuring the highest quality of life for our residents. While that is always the goal, the Town is also not blind to the deep pockets of need in the community. Yoem Pueblo presents just such an opportunity, and the Town is pursuing efforts to address their needs through creative avenues. Replatting and compassionate code enforcement may not generate flashy headlines, but they do help demonstrate why Marana is an All-America City.