After 43 years, Holt coming home

The awarding of 49 homestead leases in Kekaha by leaders of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands wasn’t just good news for Bennett Holt.

It was great news.

Holt put himself on the waiting list in 1962, moved away to the Mainland, and can finally live his dream life back home.

At a recent DHHL meeting, Norman Holt Sr., a former Kaua’i Police Department officer and member of the Kaua’i Police Commission, was given power of attorney and accepted the lease for his brother.

“It is a chance for him to come home. And when you see that, that is nice,” DHHL spokesman Lloyd Yonenaka said.

Though Bennett Holt has finally officially come off the DHHL Kaua’i waiting list, the list is still 1,400 names long. In the past, Native Hawaiians who qualified for DHHL leases and were at least 50 percent Native Hawaiian blood died while on the waiting list, because DHHL officials couldn’t (and still can’t) develop housing fast enough to keep up with the growing numbers on the waiting list.

The new DHHL project is the first homestead project undertaken on Kaua’i in six years, and the first in Kekaha since 1988.

Hawaiian families from as far away as the Mainland were selected, along with Holt, who was born and raised in Kekaha, and is a Waimea High School graduate.

Several are from Ni’ihau, the Hawaiians-only island owned by members of the Robinson family.

The 49-lot subdivision is being developed on 20 acres of state land managed by the state DHHL, with each lot measuring at least 10,000 square feet.

Workers from Menehune Development Company will build 29 turn-key homes, and staff and volunteers with the Self-Help Housing Corporation of Hawaii will coordinate the building of 20 other homes through a “sweat-equity” program in which leaseholders and their families will donate their time to help build their homes.

Goodfellow Brothers Inc. employees are responsible for making major infrastructure improvements on the land.

The developers submitted requests for proposals, and won the right to build their portions of the project through a bid process, Yonenaka said.

Because the $5.1 million project was funded by the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust Fund and the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act, funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 22 lots were reserved for families whose incomes did not exceed 80 percent of the HUD median income for Kaua’i.

That would be $51,700 for a family of four.

The cost for turn-key homes are $112,260 for a two-bedroom and one-bath house; $145,720 for a three-bedroom, two-bath house; and $188,160 for a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house.

The self-help program offers a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house for $94,177, and a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house for $96,382.

A $25,000 subsidy will be made available to those not exceeding 50 percent of the county’s median income, officials said.

For those embarking on building their homes with the self-help housing program, the home-builders are expected to put in 32 hours of work on homes each week.

The savings they make by doing their own work is substantial, according to Claudia Shay, who heads the O’ahu-based, Self-Help Housing group.

Shay was not immediately available for comment, but her group’s Web site noted that in one subdivision of three- and four-bedroom, double-walled houses, the cost for building the house was $40,000.

By comparison, the finished houses were appraised at $88,000. The sweat equity, Shay noted, just about replaced the need for a down payment on the home.

Qualifications for a lease on homes built by DHHL were based on when a person applied to be placed on the waiting list, and whether the beneficiary had secured a pre-qualification letter from a lending institution for a loan, Yonenaka said.

In the past, DHHL beneficiaries, unfortunately, didn’t qualify to buy into such DHHL properties because they weren’t financially ready to become homeowners, Yonenaka said.

The chances of beneficiaries moving into such homes are better today because DHHL leaders have established a homeowner-assistance program, Yonenaka said.

The goal “was to work specifically with people on the list, and especially those who have been on the (waiting) list for a long time,” Yonenaka said.

Micah Kane, chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, said the project is targeted for those who have been on the waiting list for a long time, and “those who need the help the most.

“There is a high demand for homes in Kekaha from our applicants originating from Ni’ihau,” Kane said.

Because some of the applicants are Native Hawaiians who still mainly speak the Ni’ihau dialect of the Hawaiian language, a Hawaiian-language interpreter was present at a recent meeting, to help facilitate communication for such families, Kane said.

“Having an interpreter is significant because it means we are helping those who are living our culture, and that is the essence of our mission,” Kane said.

Gov. Linda Lingle said the project is “more than just about providing affordable housing. It is about building healthy communities.

“Every opportunity that is built is an opportunity for a better life for generations of families, and that is good for all of Hawai’i,” said Lingle.

The 49 planned homes are part of a big push by the administration of Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste to build affordable housing for residents.

His plan calls for the building of 700 affordable-housing units in the next two years.

The units would be built by proponents of self-help building projects, and by developers who have affordable-housing commitments tied to commercial ventures that have been approved by officials of various government agencies.

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