How proposed DHHL funding could affect Kaua‘i
LIHU‘E — A bill in the state Legislature could have a significant impact on housing for Native Hawaiians on Kaua‘i.
Senate Bill 3359 would appropriate $600 million to the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the largest state allocation in the department’s history.
“It would be seven times more than this organization has ever received from the Legislature,” said DHHL Information and Community Relations Officer Cedric Duarte. “We would be able to address thousands on the waiting list.”
Of the over 28,000 beneficiaries on the waitlist for DHHL properties, about 4,000 are located on Kaua‘i, according to the DHHL. Many spend decades on the list, and some die before receiving a homestead.
Jeremie Makepa, a Kaua‘i Fire Department captain, moved with his wife and three kids into an Anahola homestead 14 years ago.
“I grew up on welfare and food stamps, having to move whenever the landlord felt like raising the rent,” Makepa said. “I wanted to have a place my kids could always call home. Hopefully, these funds help more Native Hawaiian families achieve the dream of homeownership like we did.”
The process of getting the homestead wasn’t easy for Makepa, who spent a decade on the waitlist.
In order to be eligible for a property, he explained, he needed to qualify for a $150,000 loan to fund the construction of the home. Mapeka was renting a discounted apartment from a family friend at the time, which helped as he saved up the required funds.
“If we were paying normal rental prices there’s no way we would have been able to save enough to go for the down-payment,” he said.
Finally, he was able to use a relative’s spot on the list, and the property was transferred to him. Otherwise, he said, he would probably still be waiting.
The construction of the home took an additional one to two years, a financially stressful period for Makepa, who was now paying off a home loan and paying rent. He sees the financial cost as a huge barrier to homeownership for most Hawaiian families.
“There needs to be an affordable housing intermediary stage so you can save up for the loan,” Makepa said. “If they used some of that 600 million to create affordable housing rental units in preparation for homeownership that would make more people on the list eligible.”
A program like this would be on the table if the $600 million were made available.
Duarte reported that the DHHL had discussed using the funding for low-income housing development along with expanding existing lot-development projects, infrastructure development, expanding the DHHL down payment assistance pilot program, and land acquisition.
A previous $600 million settlement led to the development of 4,000 lots, and Duarte was optimistic that this funding could lead to a similar level of construction.
Homesteads in both Hanapepe and Anahola could see expansion.
The DHHL is proposing to add 440 lots and up to 111 new subsistence agriculture lots to their Hanapepe community — adding to the 47 lots already there.
The full buildout of the site could occur over the next 20 years, but is dependent on receiving sufficient funding.
The DHHL also hopes to grant more agriculture and pastoral lots to beneficiaries on 462 acres of land in Anahola. The department is considering expanding infrastructure in the area, and is assessing potential non-potable-water options for agriculture and pastoral irrigation.
In the past, the state has largely underfunded the DHHL, which was established through the federal 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act in an effort spearheaded by Kaua‘i native Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole.
The act allows the department to provide those with at least 50% Hawaiian blood with 99-year homestead leases at an annual rate of $1, along with financial assistance through direct loans or loan guarantees for home construction, replacement or repair, and for the development of farms and ranches; technical assistance to farmers and ranchers; and the operation of water systems.
SB3359 unanimously passed the Committee on Hawaiian Affairs on Thursday, and will now go before the Ways and Means Committee.
“I’m really hopeful that the funds will be used statewide and that the Native Hawaiians on Kaua‘i will have some access to housing,” said state Rep. Nadine Nakamura, whose district includes Anahola. “I’m excited about the House bill, and it gives us hope that we can make a dent on the waiting list.”
“We all know that Native Hawaiians are disproportionately homeless, disproportionately living in overcrowded conditions. This is a real social-justice issue to make sure that Native Hawaiians can have homes in their native land,” Nakamura said.
Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or email@example.com.