By William J. Ailā, Jr., Chair of the Hawaiian Homes Commission
My time as Chair of the Hawaiian Homes Commission and Director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) will soon come to a close. As I reflect on my time with DHHL, I am proud of the work that the Department’s staff has been able to accomplish, and my outlook for the future of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act is very optimistic.
In this space, the Department has provided a preview of its day-to-day efforts turned into action, but it has only been a glimpse into the hard work we’ve all poured into the fulfillment of Prince Kūhiō’s vision for our ʻĀina Hoʻopulapula.
Over the past four years, we’ve offered homestead lots on every island. This includes hundreds of turnkey homes in Kapolei; vacant lots on Kauaʻi, Maui, and Lānaʻi; Rent-With-Option-To-Purchase on Hawaiʻi Island; more vacant lots in Kaʻū on Hawaiʻi Island; and homes across the state left behind without successors that were re-awarded to the next native Hawaiian on the list.
While the Department’s measured success is often tied to addressing its Waiting List, the responsibility of managing the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust goes beyond that number, and therefore, in my eyes, so does the reasonable measurement of the program’s productivity.
Among broader efforts accomplished under my leadership were major upgrades and repair work to two of DHHL’s water systems, this includes a $12 million upgrade project to the Anahola Water system and a $37 million improvement of Molokaʻi’s 80-year-old Hoʻolehua Water system.
In addition, homesteaders struggling with access to high-speed internet due to previous restrictions were given the approval to seek out other service providers, and the Department secured licenses for future wireless internet development.
The Department made strides toward creating plans for new homestead developments statewide with a pair of master plans and several environmental assessments. And DHHL staff took on the laborious task of updating its administrative rules so beneficiaries will have access to more homesteading options, including smaller agricultural lots, supplemental dwelling units, and rentals.
The recent allocation of $600 million follows several consecutive years of the Department receiving general funding as well as increased capital improvement funds from the Legislature and the Ige administration. The recognition and boost in funding had been a momentous step forward, and that, coupled with a heightened awareness of DHHL funding needs along with a state budget surplus, led to the unprecedented $600 million designation.
This funding will ultimately equate to thousands of new homestead lots over the next several years.
Equally as important is the affirmation by legislative leaders that sufficient funding for the Department to develop infrastructure is no longer a contended subject. This attitude represents a significant change of course from the days before the Nelson decision, and I take great pride in my staff demonstrating this need with innovative ideas that brought the topic to the forefront and on the table for exploration.
Not only has state government taken a different posture with DHHL, but the federal government also sent forward its vote of confidence by allocating a record $22.3 million for the Department in the most recent fiscal year. This represents an increase of over $20 million and the most money ever provided by the U.S. Government to the Hawaiian Homesteading program.
With plans and funding in place for the immediate future, I believe DHHL is well positioned to launch into the next 100 years of the Act with momentum.
I want to extend my gratitude to Gov. Ige for his trust in me in this capacity, and to the Hawaiian Homes Commission and DHHL staff for their confidence in my leadership and for allowing me to serve our community. I would also like to acknowledge my executive assistant and former Chair Jobie Masagatani and Deputy Tyler Iokepa Gomes for their efforts to advance this program.
It has been an honor and a privilege to contribute to fulfilling the vision of Prince Kūhiō.