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County backs Hawaiian homesteaders

LIHU‘E — The County Council on Wednesday passed unanimously a resolution to urge the state Legislature to fix defects in laws that govern the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands that have led to stubbornly high mortgage delinquency and foreclosure rates among Native Hawaiians living on DHHL lands.

The council action — the vote was 6-0, with Councilmember Arthur Brun absent — came only a day before state Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on SB2526, the first of three DHHL-reform bills that have been introduced in the new session. The hearing is today at 1:15 p.m.

State Sen. Kaiali‘i Kahele (D-Hawaii Island) is lead sponsor of all three bills. The others are SB2525 and SB2393.

The Kauai council action came after the Maui County Council approved unanimously a virtually identical resolution on Jan. 10. Hawaii County Council members have pledged to consider another carbon-copy resolution at a meeting on Feb. 19, according to Kauai Councilmember Kipukai Kuali‘i, one of the sponsors of the measure passed on Wednesday.

The other sponsor is Councilmember Felicia Cowden. Kuali‘i said the Honolulu City Council is preparing a similar resolution for introduction there. The Oahu version, however, is likely to call on the federal government to force DHHL mortgage-delinquency reforms rather than legislate changes at the state level.

That is because the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which established DHHL, is a federal law that can only be substantively changed by Congress, Kuali‘i said. The act was passed in 1920, long before Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959.

Proponents of the county measures on Maui and Kauai say the reforms urged in those resolutions constitute only technical changes in DHHL operating procedures. Such alterations can be mandated at the state level, said Anahola resident Robin Danner, chair of the Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations.

“This is not an issue of Native Hawaiians being a bunch of deadbeats. This is an issue of parity,” Danner said in council testimony. “We have a state agency (DHHL) that is all-powerful and puts us into landlord-tenant status.” She said Native Hawaiian homeowners who fall behind in their mortgages face a situation “like David and Goliath.”

Kuali‘i, who chairs the council’s Housing Committee and resides on DHHL land in Anahola, said Native Hawaiian homesteaders being pursued for mortgage delinquency or forced from their homes by foreclosure add unnecessarily to the island’s homeless population.

“We need to do what we can to help these families stay in the homes they are in,” he said. “People losing their housing on our island is a critical issue and this (DHHL procedure change) is low-hanging fruit.”

Kuali‘i and Danner said there is a fundamental difference between the general population, where people hold fee-simple mortgages on homes and own their properties, and Native Hawaiians, who build homes on land owned by DHHL, where they are considered lessees, not owners.

The DHHL declined to take positions on any of the four various county resolutions passed or under consideration, and it did not respond to questions on its position on the three Senate bills.

Once Native Hawaiians lease DHHL land, for which there is a waiting list that crosses multiple generations, they are entitled to build homes, construction costs of which are mortgage-financed. However, the Native Hawaiian homeowner never owns the land, said Kuali‘i and Danner.

As a result, they said, when a DHHL lessee falls behind in mortgage payments, DHHL routinely treats the situation as a lease default, not a mortgage delinquency in the conventional sense. Under this system, Danner said, DHHL has developed loan-servicing procedures that deny Native Hawaiians the rights to seek loan modifications or forgiveness and other remedies routinely available in the broad mortgage market.

DHHL, for its part, said in a statement originally issued in December that it does negotiate such remedies, but only on a case-by-case basis that is not described in the three-page section of the agency’s loan-servicing manual devoted to foreclosure and delinquency. The only remedy spelled out in the manual is the crafting of a repayment plan, in which the delinquent party’s only option is to catch up to the amount owed on the loan.

If a DHHL mortgage is delinquent for more than 120 days, according to the DHHL manual, the only remedy is a “contested-case hearing,” a court-like, administrative proceeding in which a judge ultimately makes a ruling to modify a loan or permit DHHL to evict the Native Hawaiian family in question. If that happens, the family must leave the home, which DHHL takes over. Danner contended that many such homes languish, boarded up, for years.

She said DHHL lessees who fall into the contested-case category are often bewildered by the complexities of litigation, can’t afford attorneys and may fail to appear for scheduled hearings because they don’t understand the process.

In its December statement, DHHL denied that its processes result in high rates of delinquency and deny mortgagees options to which others may be entitled. “We understand that there are sometimes unavoidable life events that occur, and we have trained staff as well as contracted financial counselors to help,” the release said.

The agency said “it became clear that, in practice, DHHL’s loan program offers borrowers more flexibility and creativity in its mitigation efforts than the current version of the loan manual, and far more than the fee-simple market.” It said it was pursuing revision of the manual.

The agency’s statistics, however, show stunning levels of delinquency. Among 966 mortgage loans made directly by DHHL, 260 — or more than 26% — were in default. Of 406 loans guaranteed, but not made, by DHHL, 89 were in default, as were 334 of 3,135 loans to DHHL lessees made by conventional lenders.

The delinquency rates compare to 3% to to 4.5% for mortgages in general nationally and about 3% in Hawaii. The DHHL rates are higher than the national mortgage implosion of 2007 and 2008, Danner said.

The three newly introduced Senate bills would:

• Mandate revision of DHHL’s lending manual and adoption of “loan loss mitigation policies, procedures and methods, including financial counseling, mitigation analysis, forbearance, loan modification, loan assumption, sale or transfer;”

• Ban DHHL from canceling a lease “based solely on a loan delinquency or default” unless DHHL provably followed all of its published mitigation procedures;

• Emphasize procedures designed to “avoid default, cure delinquencies and avoid cancellation or foreclosure;”

• Require a majority of members of the Hawaiian Homes Commission to be DHHL lessees and require “beneficiary consultations” before changing its procedures.

•••

Allan Parachini, a Kilauea resident, furniture maker, freelance reporter and retired public relations executive, writes periodically for The Garden Island.

3 Comments
  1. Debra Kekaualua January 30, 2020 9:56 am Reply

    From the ridiculous to the sublime. Why is Robin Danner ‘spoking’ for DHHL OHA and lessee, when she and Kualii have lied so often and the hui is as corrupted as those on other islands. Yet, Robin appears to be federally recognized chiefess of AnEhola and when she arrived more than a decade ago, she and her hui took over the newly built commercial Community kitchen right after it was finished built and no one has Ever been allowed appointment time in Danner daughter operated ‘Cafe’ to practice Commercial, not just Danners. The corner house Was the community classroom, homework hale. I and other Medical professional ‘transcriptionists’ were about to do training of anyone interested, who wanted to learn or receive employment at 20$ per hour. Classes were dismissed, AHHA and Uturnforchrist management moved in AND along with KIUC, somehow Danner fashioned lessee status for nonhawaiians like herself, built Kumu Camp Anehola bayfront without any body stopping or questioning her motivation agenda. Looky now, not one lessee received a corporate PV system, Uturn 501c3 nonprofit corporate are a california mens drug rehab that like AA/NA is not 100% effective, so where do the dropouts go? Down to bay front, grab a young NH GF, have babies and stay at kumu camp or the bushes surrounding the river and beach fronts. More so, what happened to the deathlisted stamped kupuna architectural plans for the same site as tat overthrown by danner hui. NOTHING is what you may think is sunshinny. At the end 2019, DHHL Had seven “Government no trespassing signs” near canoe clubs and park! NONE at Kumu camp. One by one they have all disappeared. What were those particularly worded signs supposed to convey to NH, not to me tion their cost! Certainly it wasnt to address haole or visitors? If you are blind to the flaws of several liars and manipulations or maneuvers, all you gotta do is drive-by “The market place”, as it resembles a reservation often seen in Arizona, North and South Dakota! The community kitchen REmains retail.

    Hawaii is a third world country with an american military bow that is going to have us dead. PMRF Navy Nasa USAF “settles” and no safety net bunkers, just killing machines percussions of the kekaha grounds and live fire that crashed tour helicopter got too close to the main mountaintop Kokee military facilities(plural).

    WAKE up and smell the fresh brew of Kauai Cope. Crown Lands connected to the Port o “toolman Tim Allen”, the military’s graveyard, and SaltPond, All of which is Konohiki status on crown lands, In perpetuity!


  2. Manawai January 31, 2020 7:28 am Reply

    An interesting example of stream of consciousness writing that perfectly reflects its addled source.


  3. Andrew R Walden January 31, 2020 11:19 am Reply

    If those bills became law, it would be effectively impossible to foreclose. As a result, no mortgage lender would lend to DHHL lessees.


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