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Courtesy Brooks Nuanez, Skyline Sports 

Northern Arizona head coach Jack Murphy talks to his team during a timeout Wednesday against Sacramento State during the Big Sky Conference tournament in Boise, Idaho.

City looks to redevelop public housing

With the help of a private developer and changes on the federal level, the city may see upgraded and new public housing units in Flagstaff in four to eight years, and potentially more of them.

Flagstaff City Council directed staff to send a letter of intent to the Department of Housing and Urban Development that begins the process of this redevelopment.

City Housing Director Sarah Darr was quick to say that the process was nonbinding and the city could stop at any time should Council decide to.

Darr added that the program would not mean any residents of the city’s public housing program would lose their homes should the city want to redevelop the public housing communities.

“There are people who live in these units; they will remain foremost in our thought process no matter what we decide to do with those [units]. It’s about the people who live there and we need to be very, very clear that no one is going to lose their housing,” Darr said. “We are not taking people’s homes away.”

The federal path the city is going down is one to “reposition public housing,” essentially transitioning it from public housing to other federal housing programs like Section 8.

Section 8 housing is best known for housing vouchers that a family can hold, but if the city goes down that path, the two main public housing communities in Flagstaff -- Siler Homes and Brannen Homes -- won't transition to that system. Instead, the voucher will stay with the unit but simply under the Section 8 title, not unlike how Clark Homes operates, Darr said.

The program began development under the Obama administration, continuing under President Donald Trump, and was meant to help address an estimated $23 billion of capital works projects and maintenance that many public housing units need across the county.

These are not issues public housing developments have faced in Flagstaff -- unlike other parts of the country, Darr said the city maintenance department has done a great job maintaining public housing.

But because the city does not need to use the program to complete years of maintenance projects, it presents the city with the opportunity to redevelop or refurbish the public housing developments in Flagstaff, primarily Siler Homes and Brannon Homes.

HUD isn’t providing any additional money to do this but the path the city is taking does change some of the rules around these public housing developments. For one, it allows municipalities to take out loans for use toward these housing projects, using the public housing as leverage. Previously, HUD did not allow cities to take out such loans.

This path also allows a city to work with a private developer to rehab or redevelop the housing, meaning newer units and often an increase in the number of units.

In return, the developer may receive a developer fee or tax breaks. Other cities have also allowed the developer to manage or even own the property after the rehab as a privately run affordable housing development, although Darr said in this case, the city would like to keep both ownership and management of the property.

Mayor Coral Evans agreed.

“I think at a bare minimum the city needs to retain ownership of the land and retain the property management function,” Evans said.

Evans did voice some concern over how likely such redevelopment projects would be completed and if they may change the quality of life for residents of public housing in Flagstaff.

She pointed at Siler Homes, where Evans lived growing up, which covers about 20 acres of land and houses about 100 families.

“That afforded those families a yard, a front yard and a back yard, and it afforded us a certain normal quality of life. So as we move to this new model, does that mean people will be in apartments that are three stories high and have no yard?” Evans said. “That worries me.”

Darr agreed, adding that the residents of those communities should have input as well.

“There is no reason we can’t have multiple housing types on one site,” Darr said.

The federal government and Congress have been moving away from federally funded public housing as a way to address issues of housing insecurity and affordable housing, instead focusing efforts on Section 8, Darr said. The program has long been both underfunded and seen unpredictable fluctuations in how much money is provided.

Because of this, transitioning the city’s public housing to operate under Section 8 may provide stability for funding levels, said Deborah Beals, the finance manager for the city housing department.

For years, the city housing department often has little idea of exactly how much they will be getting from the federal government annually for the purpose of public housing, Beals said.

Comparatively, staff have better, earlier estimates as to how much money they are receiving for the Section 8 programs, Beals said.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Michael Hartzell, right, watches as his dog, Morty, explores almost six inches of fresh snow that fell overnight in Flagstaff. The pair were at the Thorpe Park bark park Wednesday morning as the storm was clearing. For more on the storm in Flagstaff and the region, see Page A3.

Fit, fab and over 50: Dancin' Grannies show the value of fitness at any age

At Northern Arizona University’s Dance Marathon held at the campus’ Field House Saturday, college students sat and watched as 10 women, aged 56 to 84 and a half, tapped, twisted, spun and danced off their derrieres.

The Dancin’ Grannies are old hats when it comes to performing.

The Flagstaff women’s tap group started out in the mid-1990s at the Joe C. Montoya Community and Senior Center. Now, the Grannies practice twice weekly at the YMCA and perform at NAU halftime shows, at Movies at the Square, the Coconino County Fair, the Fourth of July parade, the Armed Forced Day parade and more.

The move to the YMCA two years ago was important because of the change in floor types, said Dancin' Grannies leader Cherie Hollett, 72.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever fallen at the Y, but if they did, it’s a wooden floor, it’s got a four-inch pad and it’s a floating floor, so there’s a give to it if we did fall,” Hollett said.

The only time any of the Grannies have fallen, four members of the group concluded, was when one woman walked into her first practice wearing heeled tap shoes and was unbalanced.

While some of the Grannies, like Karen Briley-Balkan, 69, have always danced, others, like Mary Debold, 69, had little dance experience and were looking for an activity after they retired.

The new members practice some of the less intricate numbers with the rest of the group, and go home and watch Hollett’s instructional DVDs for more independent practice.

“It’s a dance group, it’s not a dance class. We don’t go in and break down basic steps and skills every day,” Hollett said.

“We’re all too old to take the time to work on skills,” Donna Schwartz, 65, joked.

The only real requirement to join, besides being a woman over 50, is that “you have to be able to count to eight to tap dance,” Briley-Balkan said. “We do have some people that don’t hear the beat the same.”

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

From left: Cherie Hollett, Donna Schwartz, Karen Briley-Balkan.

But perfection isn’t the goal for the Dancin’ Grannies, which is less intense than similar groups in Phoenix and Tucson.

“Everybody that performs at some time [will] make a mistake, forget a step, your mind wanders or whatever, but we don’t care – we’re not the Rockettes,” Hollett said.

At NAU’s dance marathon Saturday, which went from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. in order to raise funds for Phoenix Children’s Hospital, the Dancin’ Grannies did eight dances in a row to eight different songs, with barely any breaks.

While all 10 grannies at the event performed in the majority of the dances, a few only had five or six Grannies. But Hollett insisted the Grannies that sat out of some songs didn’t do so because of stamina issues.

“Some [Grannies] don’t care for 'Uptown Funk,' and other songs, like 'Rockin’ Robin,' are a little harder and [newer members] don’t know them,” Hollett said. “It’s a choice. Nobody has to do a number they don’t like or don’t know or aren’t comfortable with.”

For the Grannies that perform in all the dances at the show, Hollett makes sure there are some slower numbers mixed in, so there aren’t two harder songs back-to-back.

For example, “All that Jazz,” where the Grannies donned fedoras and did the can-can, was sandwiched between “A Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “YMCA,” which had a little less steps.

Just a Number

Alexandra Wittenberg, Arizona Daily Sun 

The Dancin' Grannies performed their finale, "Uptown Funk," with an an NAU student at NAU's Dance Marathon Saturday.

At the end of Saturday’s show, after the “Uptown Funk” finale where the Dancin' Grannies grooved out in colorful hats and sunglasses, Hollett introduced all the Grannies and listed their ages.

“We share our ages at the end because younger people like to hear it,” Hollett said. “But then when we go to assisted living, some of them like to hear our ages too because some of them might even be younger than us, but because of medical and health issues they can’t be up there doing what we’re doing.”

For Schwartz, dancing has improved her physical abilities later in life.

“I was born with a clubbed foot. I had a lot of casts and surgeries and then afterward my doctor told me, ‘once your incisions heal back, take tap for the rest of your life,’ and I’ve never stopped,” she said. “I joined Dancin’ Grannies when I was 60 and I could not stand on my left foot for a count to do [a certain move] and now I can.”

Hollett said that one group member was 76 when she had open-heart surgery, a knee replacement and a hip replacement.

“I swear you blinked and she was back in class. Probably just because she has danced and stayed in shape all her life,” Hollett said.

And it’s not just an increase in physical abilities that benefits those who dance and exercise later in life.

“[Dancin’ Grannies] is not only good physically – it’s good mentally,” Hollett said. “You have to remember and learn steps and learn routines.”

Besides dancing, the Grannies often see movies together, go bowling, go out for lunch and more.

“Can I get philosophical for a minute?” Briley-Balkan asked. “People our age feel very invisible. Like, if you go to the doctor, they just sort of dismiss you or your complaints and just say ‘aw, that’s old age.’ And you find that people just don’t pay as much attention to you when you get older. So I think this group is full of energy and we kind of dispel that myth. We’re out there having fun.”

Recently, Briley-Balkan was recognized as a Dancin’ Granny when she was getting her hair cut and said it felt really good.

“We’re not celebrities – we’re not Beyoncé – but we do have fun and I think that as aging people it’s really important that we’re out there,” she said.

Jacob Byk, The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP 

Tom Skaar of Cheyenne laughs while walking his dogs on House Avenue during a blizzard on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Cheyenne, Wyo.

US, Canada ground Boeing 737 Max 8s after Ethiopia crash

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order Wednesday grounding all Boeing 737 Max aircraft in the wake of a crash of an Ethiopian airliner that killed 157 people, a reversal for the U.S. after federal aviation regulators had maintained it had no data to show the jets are unsafe.

The decision came hours after Canada joined about 40 other countries in barring the Max 8 from its airspace, saying satellite tracking data showed possible but unproven similarities between the Ethiopian Airlines crash and a previous crash involving the model five months ago. The U.S., one of the last holdouts, also grounded a larger version of the plane, the Max 9.

Daniel Elwell, acting head of the FAA, said enhanced satellite images and new evidence gathered on the ground led his agency to order the jets out of the air.

The data, he said, linked the behavior and flight path of the Ethiopian Airlines Max 8 to data from the crash of a Lion Air jet that plunged into the Java Sea and killed 187 people in October.

"Evidence we found on the ground made it even more likely that the flight path was very close to Lion Air's," Elwell told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.

Satellite data right after the crash wasn't refined enough to give the FAA what it needed to make the decision to ground planes, Elwell said. But on Wednesday, global air traffic surveillance company Aireon and Boeing were able to enhance the initial data to make it more precise "to create a description of the flight that made it similar enough to Lion Air," Elwell said.

The Ethiopian plane's flight data and voice recorders will be sent to France for analysis, Elwell said. Some aviation experts have warned that finding answers in the crash could take months.

Officials at Lion Air in Indonesia have said sensors on their plane produced erroneous information on its last four flights, triggering an automatic nose-down command that the pilots were unable to overcome.

President Donald Trump, who announced the grounding, was briefed Wednesday on new developments in the investigation by Elwell and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and they determined the planes should be grounded, the White House said. Trump spoke afterward with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg and Boeing signed on.

"At the end of the day, it is a decision that has the full support of the secretary, the president and the FAA as an agency," Elwell said.

Airlines, mainly Southwest, American and United, should be able to swap out planes pretty quickly, and passengers shouldn't be terribly inconvenienced, said Paul Hudson, president of, which represents passengers. The Max, he said, makes up only a small percentage of the U.S. passenger jet fleet, he said.

"I think any disruptions will be very minor," he said. "The first quarter of the year is the slow quarter, generally for air travel,"adding that the airlines have planes on the ground that aren't being used on trans-Atlantic flights that could be diverted to domestic routes.

Boeing issued a statement saying it supported the FAA's decision even though it "continues to have full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX." The company also said it had itself recommended the suspension of the Max fleet after consultations with the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.

"We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution," Boeing said.

The groundings will have a far-reaching financial impact on Boeing, at least in the short term, said John Cox, a veteran pilot and CEO of Safety Operating Systems.

In addition to those that have already been grounded, there are more than 4,600 Boeing 737 Max 8 planes on backlog that are not yet delivered to airlines.

"There are delivery dates that aren't being met, there's usage of the aircraft that's not being met, and all the supply chain things that Boeing so carefully crafted," Cox said. "If they can't deliver the airplanes, where do they put the extra engines and the extra fuselage and the extra electrical components"

Even so, Cox thinks Boeing will recover, because the planes typically fly for 30 to 40 years, and any needed fix will be made quickly, he said.

Boeing's shares have plummeted almost 11 percent since Sunday's Ethiopian Airlines crash. On Wednesday, the stock sank to $363.36 after the FAA announcement but then recovered to close at $377.14, up 0.5 percent for the day. It rose slightly in after-hours trading to $378.

In making the decision to ground the Max 8s in Canada, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said a comparison of vertical fluctuations found a "similar profile" between the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the Lion Air crash. 

Canada lost 18 of its citizens in Sunday's crash, the second highest number after Kenya. A Canadian family of six were among the dead.

Lebanon and Kosovo also barred the Boeing 737 Max 8 from their airspace Wednesday, and Norwegian Air Shuttles said it would seek compensation from Boeing after grounding its fleet. Egypt banned the operation of the aircraft. Thailand ordered budget airline Thai Lion Air to suspend flying the planes for risk assessments. Lion Air confirmed reports it has put on hold the scheduled delivery of four of the jets.