Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, September 16, 2004

Hawaiian Home Lands plans 3,500 new homes

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

In its biggest single push ever to put Native Hawaiians into homes of their own, the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands yesterday announced a transfer of lands from other state departments that will offer about 3,500 families a chance at ownership within several years.

A total of 1,800 acres on O'ahu, Maui and the Big Island have been moved from the control of the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Housing Community Development Corp. of Hawai'i to DHHL, with more exchanges expected to follow soon.

If those other deals happen, DHHL hopes to provide a total of 6,000 Native Hawaiians with residential leases in the next five years, nearly equaling the 7,200 leases the agency has awarded since it was created 83 years ago, according to Micah Kane, DHHL chairman.

"This will go down in the history of Hawai'i as one of the most important land transfers to us," Kane said of yesterday's action.

A change in philosophy on DHHL developments led to yesterday's breakthrough, which broke a logjam that has stymied this most important of Native Hawaiian entitlement programs and left as many as 20,000 Native Hawaiians languishing on a waiting list for homes — some of them for decades.

"We are moving forward on lands that have been stagnant for years," Kane said. "We will create economic opportunity with construction, have a tremendous impact on affordable housing, provide homes for people who normally would not have that opportunity, fulfill our commitment to Native Hawaiians and build communities that will impact the lives of generations to come."

The properties include the Villages of La'i'opua in Kona (2,700 homes), the Villages of Lei'ali'i near Lahaina (304 homes), Kapo-lei Village 8 (326 homes), and Waiahole Valley, which will not have homes but become protected property.

Kane said the new communities would be developed with plans for living, working, playing and the educational needs of residents. "The department has really shifted its philosophy in approaching its developments," he said, "from being a pocket in-fill type developer to one that needs to move toward master-planned communities."

In exchange for the land, DHHL will pay the the state $33 million over 15 years to reimburse some of its infrastructure costs.

The 1921 Hawaiian Homes Act set aside 200,000 acres of ceded lands for the use of those with 50 percent or more Hawaiian blood. The near-extinction of Native Hawaiians and the need for rehabilitation programs to sustain their culture and lifestyle led to the act becoming part of the Hawai'i Constitution.

Because of a 1994 settlement with the state over misused homelands properties, DHHL receives $30 million a year to finance housing developments. It also earns about $7 million a year from leasing commercial properties.

Residents pay just $1 a year to lease their home sites. But much of that land is in remote locations without roads or other infrastructure, which has been the main obstacle to providing homes more quickly. The exchanged properties, except Waiahole, are considered ready to be developed, and the first leases will be awarded with groundbreaking on some homes expected in January.

Cecelia Hopkins, 74, has been on the waiting list for a lease since 1955. She attended a meeting Tuesday on the transfer plan and said the new proposal could lead to others being given a lease without waiting so long.

"I think they are trying to find homes for homesteaders," Hopkins said. "Everybody has been waiting such a long time. I would like to see other people get into homes."

She still would like a property where she can live out her life and pass the land on to her son.

Stephanie Aveiro, HCDCH executive director, said the Maui and Kapolei properties had infrastructure work done for development as low-income housing, but no money was available to build them.

"Our mission, which is statewide to provide affordable housing, covers all the people in Hawai'i," Aveiro said. "We see no difference between Hawaiians and others. We had the choice of waiting another 10 years (for money) and doing nothing, or we could move and work in partnership and see these projects with affordable housing on it. It was a simple decision to make."

Most of the 3,500 homes will be affordable for Hawaiians who make 80 percent or less of the state's median income.

The transfer required the approval of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, because the Maui and Big Island properties are involved in a lawsuit brought by OHA against the state to stop ceded lands from being turned over to private developers.

That case is before the Hawai'i Supreme Court and will continue, said OHA chairwoman Haunani Apoliona, but the transfer of those properties will not be contested.

"The transfer of these lands to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for the purpose of developing new homes for Native Hawaiians serves the direct purpose that the lawsuit has been designed to achieve, namely to protect these lands for Native Hawaiians," Apoliona said.

DHHL has held a series of public meetings for beneficiaries across the state to explain the plans to the 12,000 Hawaiians on the waiting list.

Once a lease is awarded, the lessee either builds a home on the property, works through a self-help group such as Habitat for Humanity, or takes out a mortgage on a home built by a contractor for DHHL.

Lloyd Yonenaka, DHHL spokesman, said the real change is a new political will to move forward with new ideas to get homes built. "That drives everything," he said. "Now we are not afraid of being creative and looking outside our own inventory. This is like our first round. We are looking at other properties and a plan for Kaua'i. This is just the beginning."

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.

• • •