State lawmakers focused on affordable housing for Native Hawaiian beneficiaries today. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.
The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands briefed members of four joint House and Senate Committees on Housing and Hawaiian Affairs. DHHL oversees more than 200-thousand acres of trust lands for qualified beneficiaries who are more than 50 percent Native Hawaiian. Chair, Jobie Masagatani, says most of the trust lands are in rural areas.
“The majority of our lands are on the Big Island, with Maui being the second. On O’ahu we have the smallest percentage of land, only 3 percent of the lands. In terms of demand, our longest list is for residential on O’ahu. However, for the islands of Maui, Hawai’i, Kaua’i, and Moloka’i. So all of our neighbor island communities. The agricultural list is actually longer now than the residential.”
There are 26-thousand beneficiaries on DHHL’s waiting list. They are contacted by mail with a 15 percent response rate. House Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs Committee chair, Kaniela Ing, says that rate is unacceptable.
“Mail these days is a deliberate choice to disenfranchise, first of all, a generation. You know, we barely check mail. So you guys gotta take a more aggressive approach on how to reach out to these people. The Federal Census Bureau has people knocking on doors. The only way we communicate, realistically, with our constituents is by knocking on doors. It’s like 50-dollars an hour now for paid canvassers.”
Masagatani says DHHL is trying to change administrative rules to make it easier to communicate with beneficiaries. Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act federal funding was not being spent by DHHL and funding was cut in 2016 from 10 million dollars annually to about 2 million today. Robin Danner, who testified on behalf of the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly, says the federal money should not go to DHHL and should go directly to nonprofit homestead organizations. She says this would fix the affordable housing problem for Native Hawaiian beneficiaries and streamline the current process.
“If DHHL is replaced, then we take care of our double procurement hit of state procurement and federal regs. It is the best policy for Native Hawaiians. We want DHHL to issue leases and let homesteaders develop. That’s exactly what we want.”
Danner says unlike DHHL, which is a state agency, homestead organizations could leverage funding directly with private companies. Director Masagatani, says DHHL is scheduled to complete 234 lots this year and another 477 in 2018.
“Residential has been pretty much the primary focus of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands up to this point. But, as we move forward, we’re looking increasingly at residential and agricultural leases of subsistence ag, which are essentially rural lots that allow families to live a subsistence lifestyle on the neighbor islands.”
Masagatani also says DHHL will be looking at rent-to-own projects which would decrease the waiting list. Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.