For the first time in its history, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has set in motion a new program that will provide rental relief for beneficiaries who are on the Applicant Waiting List.

DHHL’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program launched on May 11 and will be administered by Aloha United Way through its 2-1-1 phone center. The program provides eligible beneficiaries with rental assistance using $7 million in Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant (NHHBG) funds. These funds were made available in accordance with the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act.

Department of Hawaiian Home Lands

The decision to provide rental assistance to families on the Waiting List comes at a time when thousands of Native Hawaiian families are struggling financially due to the impacts of COVID-19, and follows a series of initiatives by the Department that brought mortgage relief to existing homesteaders. AUW data estimates more than 2,500 households will be saved from eviction through the rental relief effort.

Using Federal NAHADSA dollars to provide rental assistance for Applicants on the Waiting List is a first for DHHL since Congress’ decision to allow funds to be used off of the homelands in 2018.

NAHASDA was passed by Congress in 1996 and transformed the way American Indians and Alaska Natives provide affordable housing on rural Indian reservations and Alaska Native villages. The Act opened the door for increased partnerships with financial institutions and set up a block grant program that gave American Indians and Alaska Natives the ability to determine how best to spend federal funds to address affordable housing issues.

In 2000, Congress amended NAHASDA by adding Title VIII, which provides similar funding for native Hawaiian families whose total household income is at or below 80 percent of the established area median income levels for their respective counties and who are eligible to reside on Hawaiian Home Lands.

Through the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act in 2018, which was advocated for by U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, NHHBG funds were allowed to be used for rental assistance to native Hawaiian families both on and off Hawaiian Home Lands.

Since the addition of Title VIII, DHHL has successfully invested over $130 million of federal NAHASDA funding throughout the state, providing beneficiaries with necessary down payment assistance, direct loans, and construction related activities, including home repair projects and new dwellings. After designating $7 million for the rental assistance program, the Department has roughly $9 million remaining that it intends to put towards new and existing homesteads.

Although state budget officials have estimated a $1 billion shortfall, the Department is still on schedule to prepare 1,300 lots throughout the state over the next five years. HHC Chairman William J. Ailā, Jr. pointed to the relief program as a way to assist Applicant families in weathering the current financial environment and to ultimately assume those lots as lessees upon completion.

Beneficiaries interested in taking advantage of the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program should visit dhhl.hawaii.gov/covid-19 to review the criteria and documents needed to apply for rental assistance before calling AUW at 2-1-1.

Cedric R. Duarte is the Information & Community Relations Officer for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. He has worked in communications and marketing since 1999 and is a longtime event organizer. A product of the Kamehameha Schools and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, he resides in ʻAiea with his wife and two daughters.