HURRICANE, Utah (ABC4) – The University of Utah is working with local tribal leaders in the Navajo Nation to build sustainable, affordable homes for people in the community.

DesignBuildUTAH is a program that started two decades ago when a U of U alumni saw a need with San Juan County residents living in the Navajo Nation.

“For a Navajo family selected by the local chapter and that chapter also helps fund the materials for the project,” says Dr. Keith Diaz Moore, the Dean for the School of Architecture and Planning.

As of this year, 16 houses and several projects have been constructed in the area by students, allowing recipients to help build so they can possibly expand their homes in the future.

“Part of the architectural challenge is to try and figure out how to supply various energy needs, water, and so forth locally on-site,” says Diaz Moore.

These off-grid projects create challenges as most residents in the area are living in poverty, Instructor Atsushi Yamamoto says the lack of infrastructure in the area makes the job more difficult, especially with water lines.

“Sometimes it happens within a year, but typically they have to wait three years or more,” says Yamamoto.

He says once people move into their new eco-friendly home, they go without water and electricity for a while.

Dr. Diaz Moore says inflation also caused costs to rise about 20% compared to previous years.

“And then how do you design an environment appropriate for the culture of the place and yet doing so in a deeply affordable way,” adds Diaz Moore.

Leaders from the university say by teaming up with Navajo Nation, both parties empower one another and enable people to be self-sufficient.