A New Governor! A New State DHHL Director!

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Gov. Josh Green has homelessness and housing as his top priorities and wants over $1 billion of investments in housing – including historic levels of funding to the Hawaiʻi Housing Finance & Development Corporation (HHFDC) and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL). He also stated he’ll “direct DHHL to deliver land immediately to beneficiaries for homesteading, and to work with OHA to build housing for Native Hawaiians.”

In a recent statewide meeting with Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations (SCHHA) Beneficiary Leaders, DHHL Director Kali Watson said he would work closely with us to prioritize our concerns and solutions. He also made it clear he wanted to hear from those who know our homesteads, our beneficiaries and our trust best.

Prince Kūhiō would expect, as I do, for DHHL to foster servitude to beneficiaries; a servitude that lifts us up; enables us to return to our lands in order to be self-sufficient; and enables and encourages our self-determination.

Instead, what we’ve had is paternalism, divisiveness and the worst kind of politics. We’ve had limited access to our lands caused by overzealous control that created unnecessary restrictions and barriers. Nearly 30,000 remain on the waitlist; kūpuna pass unable to leave land to their ʻohana. Far too few land awards for economic development projects by Homestead Beneficiary Associations (HBAs) like our Anahola Hawaiian Homestead Association, and resistance, unresponsiveness and disregard by DHHL.

Meaningful reform at DHHL must include:

  1. Improving DHHL’s capacity and culture and improving customer service and responsiveness by: a) Adding an office of building permits; b) Appointing beneficiary-recommended commissioners to the Hawaiian Homes Commission to bring new energy and a dedication to championing beneficiaries’ concerns, empowerment and benefits; c) Establishing standard quarterly reporting to beneficiaries, the governor and the legislature; d) Overhauling the website to enhance transparency and easy access and; e) Upgrading the grant system and establishing preference for beneficiaries and HBAs.
  2. Improving DHHL’s ability to issue homestead lots for residential, farming, ranching and mercantile under Section 207 of the HHCA by: a) Executing undivided interest leases to all eligible waitlist beneficiaries; b) Working with the U.S. Dept. of the Interior to establish a 1/32nd successor blood quantum; c) Removing internal policy requiring loan prequalification prior to lot selection; d) Removing lease addendum language prohibiting a second residential unit; e) Implementing a Homestead Lot Assistance Program to assist homestead and mercantile lessees to realize development goals and; f) Establishing a Mercantile Land Awards Program.
  3. Improving DHHL’s ability to empower and support Beneficiaries and HBAs towards self-sufficiency and self-determination by: a) Establishing a loan fund refinance program and additional dwelling unit financing product; b) Establishing a Mercantile and HBAs Loan Program; c) Adopting an internal policy requiring all non-homesteading land dispositions to enter into Homestead Benefit Agreements with HBAs as defined by 43CFR Part 47.1; d) Reinstating annual funding to both HHCA Trust Beneficiary Coalitions and; e) Establishing Sub-Granting of 15% of Federal NAHASDA funding to HBA’s 501c3s.

Having recently honored Prince Kūhiō and the 100-year anniversary of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, let’s be intentional about doing all we can to accelerate the self-sufficiency and self-determination of beneficiaries with meaningful reform at DHHL so we might, in the next few years, make up for failures during the past 100 years.