A House for Aunty Pua


A grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is helping Honolulu Habitat for Humanity construct nine homes on homestead lots in Waimānalo and one more in Waiāhole

There were smiles all around at the groundbreaking and blessing for Pua Akiyoshi’s new home. Habitat for Humanity homebuyers are active participants in the process, completing 200 hours of “sweat equity” on the construction of their own home, and 75 hours to help other homeowners build theirs. – Photos: Misha Ross

Itʻs not easy to be a homeowner in Hawaiʻi.

In May 2023, the Oʻahu median sale price for a single-family home sat at more than $1.1 million. Hawaiians are being priced out of their own paradise, with estimates from a 2021 American Community Survey showing that there are now roughly 309,800 Hawaiians living in Hawaiʻi, and roughly 370,000 residing in other states on the continent.

The dream of homeownership and its benefits like financial stability, wealth building, tax benefits and maybe most importantly – a sense of belonging to community, to the ʻāina – continues to slip away from the majority as an increasingly unattainable goal.

Photo: Pua Akiyoshi
Pua Akiyoshi is looking forward to the completion of her new home on DHHL land in Waimānalo. Akiyoshi’s dream of homeownership is being realized with the help of Honolulu Habitat for Humanity via a $1.5 million grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The grant will help Habitat for Humanity provide homes for an estimated 36 Native Hawaiians over the next two years. – Photo: Jason Lees

For years, Pua Akiyoshi and her late husband, Wesley Akiyoshi, enjoyed living in town paying a reasonable rent. But rent on their unit inevitabily went up and has continued to increase each year. Akiyoshi was feeling the pinch.

“Hawaiʻi is my home. I don’t want to move to the mainland. I don’t want to be homeless,” she said. “Rent is going crazy, and I can’t afford the rents that are out there now. It’s way more than what I was paying when I first started.”

Enter Honolulu Habitat for Humanity.

Last year, the nonprofit organization was awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) to create affordable homeownership opportunities for Native Hawaiian families. The program will provide permanent, affordable shelter and foster economic self-sufficiency for an estimated 36 Native Hawaiians over the next two years.

Funds will be used to conduct outreach and education sessions to prospective homeowners, and construct nine occupancy ready homes on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) trust lands in partnership with qualified low-income families.

Akiyoshi’s new home is currently being built and, when finished before the end of the year, will be the first of the eight homes to be constructed in Waimānalo under the OHA grant. Another home will be constructed in Waiāhole on a Hawaiʻi Housing Finance and Development Corporation land lease.

“A lot of people can’t do it without help. So I can’t wait for this to finish,” Akiyoshi said. Her new mortgage, secured with a USDA loan, will be less than the rent she is currently paying.

Akiyoshi’s journey began with her helping herself. Her first step was becoming financially literate. She attended the Nānākuli Housing Corporation’s Homebuyers Education and Financial Literacy Program – a program that OHA provided funding toward with a goal of training 500 beneficiaries to assist in achieving homeownership.

In 2014, Akiyoshi’s mother, Agnes “Lani” Hanawahine Borges, passed away and Akiyoshi took her place on the DHHL waiting list for eligible applicants.

She then signed on with Honolulu Habitat after being selected for the DHHL lot in Waimānalo in 2019, although the COVID-19 pandemic totally interrupted her construction schedule.

“I attended several financial education classes, and over the years I made sure my financial state was in order because I didn’t want to fall back. This is something I’ve wanted for a long time so I’ve stayed focused and it’s finally here. I look forward to it every day. I’m getting a house and basically paying for the building supplies and not the labor,” Akiyoshi said.

Honolulu Habitat’s homebuyers, like Akiyoshi, are active participants in the construction of their home and are required to complete “sweat equity.”

Every adult who will live in the home is required to provide 275 hours of labor. Fifty hours is “pre-sweat equity” where future residents will help construct the home of others. Then 200 hours are spent in building the person’s own home. Then 25 hours are expected to assist the next homeowner in line, or to give back to the organization and share their experiences and testimony with prospective new homeowners.

Since 1988, Honolulu Habitat, with the aid of tens of thousands of volunteers, has helped more than 400 people build (or improve) a place to call home.

“We are so grateful for this opportunity to partner with OHA,” said TJ Joseph, chief executive officer of Honolulu Habitat. “As a Native Hawaiian woman and Habitat homeowner residing on this homestead, I know the transformative power of having a safe, affordable place to call home. OHA’s support will create life-changing outcomes today and build impact and opportunity for future generations of Native Hawaiians.”

Articulate, intelligent and passionate, Joseph is one of many outstanding young ʻŌiwi leaders stepping up to serve the needs of the lāhui.

“Our vision at Honolulu Habitat is that everybody deserves a decent place to live. Our mission is to put God’s love into action to build homes, communities and hope. The first step comes from the homeowner’s awareness that they need help; and we are here to walk every step of the way with them to make that dream a reality,” Joseph said.

“This program is really about the strength and self-resilience of a family to make their situation better, and then have an organization support them as they go. It is definitely a hands up and never a handout. As Hawaiians, that’s the only way we thrive. We only thrive when we feel that we can give as much as we receive.”

Akiyoshi said she can’t wait to move into her brand new house. Her mother was originally from Waimānalo.

“I was really blessed to be qualified and to have this help with my home. My husband passed away in 2019, and for me that was the end of the world. He’s with me, just not physically,” she said.

“But with this, I have something to look forward to. This is my home. This is where I was born. My mom has a lot of family here. So I’m coming home, and I count my blessings every day.”

If you are interested in learning more about the programs and services offered by Honolulu Habitat for Humanity, please visit their website at honoluluhabitat.org.