PUHI — In what was described as the boldest effort to put Hawaiians on land in recent times, state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands yesterday awarded homestead leases to 160 Native Hawaiians at a meeting at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.
Some 700 people attended the meeting for the chance to secure leases at the Pi’ilani Mai Ke Kai subdivision, to be built in three phases on 71 acres on the coastline in Anahola in East Kaua’i.
The awarding of the leases would allow many of the 160 DHHL beneficiaries to gain homeownership for the first time. Construction of the homes could start in a year, DHHL officials said.
Those who walked away with leases yesterday can now invest in themselves rather than others in the form of rent, officials said. Some forced by necessity to live in the homes of relatives while they waited for leases can now look forward to the day when they will have their own home, DHHL officials said.
The awarding of the leases would free up more rental units on the island and drive down rental prices, benefiting the entire island, Mayor Bryan Baptiste said at the meeting.
The new DHHL homes idea, he said, fits into his affordable housing plans to have several thousand homes built in the next few years.
Such units are to be built by government agencies, such as DHHL, or by developers as part of their zoning requirements for commercial projects they build, Baptiste said.
“The county has been expediting the permits (and will do so with DHHL’s newest project in Anahola),” Baptiste said.
The awarding of the leases was of such significance as to compel the appearance of Gov. Linda Lingle.
DHHL officials said the department will spend between $18 and $20 million over the next few years to put in the infrastructure for the project, which is to be developed off Kukuihale Road in Anahola.
Although the project has 181 lots with a minimum of 10,000 square feet, 21 lots were awarded through an accelerated program in the mid-1980s but without any infrastructure improvements attached to them, DHHL officials said yesterday.
The infrastructure improvements for the 80 lots (of which 68 will be new awards) in the first phase is scheduled to begin in weeks.
Infrastructure work is scheduled to start for 55 other lots (51 new awards), as part of the second phase, in the first quarter of 2007.
And infrastructure work on the last 46 lots (41 new awards) in the third phase is scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2008.
Officials said homes will be built by a contractor in the first phase and will be sold “turnkey” to those few who won lease awards yesterday.
Some of the lots will remain vacant for those who have the financial capability to build their own homes, according to Lloyd Yonenaka, DHHL administrator of the Information and Community Relations Office.
“We want to have flexibility,” he said before the meeting. “There are some people who want to build their own.”
Ken Keli’iho’omalu, a 62-year-resident of Anahola, was poised to take one of the coveted leases awarded.
“I expect to get a lease today because I am pretty high up on the list (for qualification for a lease award),” he said. “I signed up for a lease in 1984, and I should have signed up a long time ago.”
He said he once owned three homes on O’ahu, but after moving to Kaua’i, he decided to rent a home in Anahola.
He said he qualifies for a lease partly because he meets the 50 percent blood quantum requirement, qualifying him as a native Hawaiian.
“My father (Moody Keli’iho’omalu from O’ahu) was fullblooded Hawaiian, and my mother (Hanna Prigge/Keli’ihoomalu from Kaua’i) was half,” he said.
The original DHHL leaseholder must have 50 percent Hawaiian blood, but the spouses and children who may have the lease transferred to them can have a 25 percent Hawaiian blood quantum, DHHL officials said.
In waiting for his chance to get one of the leases, Keli’iho’omalu expressed his support for the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.
He predicted the lands that are part of the Anahola project will eventually fall back into the fold of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Also attending the meeting was Iwalani Pa-Martin, a DHHL beneficiary who won her residential lease in 1991 and has built a home in Anahola with her husband, Michael.
She said securing a lease was “easy” for her because she had signed up for the land lease some time ago and because “my dad, Sam Pa, was pure Hawaiian.”
Martin, the sister of Hawaiian activist Kane Pa, accompanied her daughter, Jaylene Martin, 24, to the meeting to see if she was one of the lucky ones to get a lease award.
For those who didn’t win awards yesterday, they need not despair, because other projects are coming up through an aggressive effort by Kane’s administration’s to put DHHL beneficiaries on the land, department officials told the audience members.
Kane said he hopes to award 6,000 leases over the next five years.
DHHL leaders have accelerated the awarding of leases to beneficiaries in the past, but those programs were not entirely successful partly because those who received the leases were not financially prepared to build homes on their lots.
That will be different this time around, thanks to the tandem use of DHHL’s “undivided interest award” program and “Home Owners Assistance Program,” Kane said.
Ben Henderson, the deputy to Kane, said the undivided interest program provides lessees a lease interest in the Anahola project, but not a specific lot at this time.
“We will develop lots over the next few yeas, and as those lots are completed, you will have a chance to have your lease amended and have a completed lot,” Henderson told audience members.
The best part about participation in the first program is that people can prepare to “move onto the land,” he said.
The undivided interest is helpful in that it requires no financial prequalification of the DHHL beneficiaries, as no house or lot is being selected at the time, officials said.
DHHL officials have launched the HOAP program as a way to help those receiving lease awards the chance to prepare for loan qualifications.
That could take the form of getting rid of bad credit or better managing one’s finances, all of which can be accomplished through courses DHHL will be offering, officials said.
DHHL has accelerated the awarding of land leases in the past, but beneficiaries couldn’t build right away because there weren’t sufficient funds for infrastructure.
This time around “we have the money,” said one DHHL official.
Kane credited Baptiste for expediting the project. “You guys hear bottlenecks about permitting,” Kane said. “This island, we don’t have that, because we have the support of the mayor.”
Also giving credit for supporting the latest DHHL project were Ron Agor, the Kaua’i representative of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, and Kaua’i County Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho. Both Agor and Iseri-Carvalho attended the meeting.
Also in attendance was Laurie Yoshida, Lingle’s liaison on Kauai’i.
For more information about DHHL’s land lease award programs, go to www.hawaii.gov/dhhl.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and firstname.lastname@example.org