OHA to focus on increasing rental affordability, financial readiness for home ownership and supporting housing policies that benefit Hawaiians
“Ako ʻē ka hale a paʻa, a i ke komo ʻana mai o ka hoʻoilo, ʻaʻole e kulu i ka ua o Hilinaʻehu; Thatch the house beforehand so when winter comes it will not leak in the shower of Hilinaʻehu.”
– Do not procrastinate; make preparations for the future now.
It’s a basic necessity, but something sorely lacking in Hawaiʻi.
Suitable, affordable housing is a key factor in reducing intergenerational poverty and increasing economic mobility. Research has shown that when affordable housing is available, stress and disease are reduced, improving physical and mental health.
Yet some estimate Hawaiʻi has an overall housing shortage of 22,000 units.
“Affordable housing is arguably the biggest challenge that Hawaiʻi faces right now,” said Jim Murphy, executive director of the Honolulu Habitat for Humanity.
Despite having deep connections to the ʻāina, Hawaiians continue to face barriers to finding quality housing in our homeland, due to decades of systematic and systemic displacement.
Native Hawaiians are over-represented among residents experiencing houselessness, with 55 unsheltered Hawaiians compared to 14 non-Hawaiians (per 10,000 population) on Oʻahu. And 43 Hawaiians compared to 14 non-Hawaiians (per 10,000 population) live in homeless shelters in Honolulu.
That is why Quality Housing is one of four strategic directions targeted in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ 15-year Mana i Mauli Ola Strategic Plan.
“The housing crisis in Hawaiʻi is a multilayered problem requiring a multipronged approach, because no one entity can solve this problem alone,” said OHA’s Interim Director of Community Engagement Alice Malepeai Silbanuz. “OHA intends to leverage partnerships to increase the number of Hawaiians with access to affordable rentals and who achieve homeownership. At the same time, OHA will support legislation that positively affects housing supply and costs.”
OHA has been a stalwart supporter of affordable housing that enables Native Hawaiians to live and raise their ʻohana in their own kulāiwa (homeland) – a priority made increasingly difficult as the cost of housing continues to soar.
In 2018, OHA was recognized for its commitment to addressing the housing needs of the Hawaiian community with the Native Hawaiian Housing Award at the 17th Annual Native Hawaiian Convention hosted by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.
Between 2011 and 2018, OHA invested $1.5 million in housing programs offered by nonprofit Hawaiian Community Assets, helping 338 Native Hawaiian households obtain rentals, purchase homes and prevent foreclosures, resulting in stable housing for 1,251 individuals.
But that is just a fraction of OHA’s total investment in housing and housing stability programs for Native Hawaiians.
From fiscal years 2011 through 2019, OHA provided more than $40 million to support efforts to: provide emergency financial assistance; build affordable homes; administer and subsidize transitional shelters; help low-income ʻohana rent homes and become first-time homebuyers; build the economic self-sufficiency of homeless and at-risk individuals and families; and develop infrastructure for Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) affordable housing projects.
“OHA will also work to strengthen the implementation of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, Silbanuz said. “Our hope is that OHA’s efforts, along with our partners’ will greatly enhance Native Hawaiians’ ability to achieve housing stability and be able to live in Hawaiʻi nei.”
Clarence “Aikūʻē” Kalima is OHAʻs Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Fund manager, and a former grants specialist. He began working with beneficiary Pua Akiyoshi on her journey to homeownership back in 2019 when Kalima was working for the Nānākuli Housing Corporation. It’s an inspiring tale of aloha and mālama, exemplifying OHA’s “head, heart and hands” approach to serving the lāhui.
“There are a lot of vulnerable Hawaiians in our community – very low income kūpuna on fixed income – who think they are not going to be able to achieve homeownership,” Kalima said. “However, there are available programs funded by OHA to help these families get to where they want to be.”
“I had been renting all this time,” Akiyoshi said. “So my late husband and I decided to go for Hawaiian Home Lands, because it was something we could afford and rent was just going crazy.”
That’s where Kalima and OHA stepped in.
“The first OHA-funded grant program that Pua took advantage of was Nānākuli Housing Corporation’s (NHC) Homebuyer Education Financial Literacy program and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Loan Packaging services,” Kalima said.
In 2018 and 2019, NHC received a two-year OHA Community Grant to provide training to 500 Native Hawaiians. Akiyoshi completed the training during the summer of 2019, learning skills necessary to become a homeowner such as the importance of credit, managing debt, creating a budget and developing a savings plan – and about the variety of home loan programs available and the eligibility requirements.
During her counseling session with Kalima, Akiyoshi received a pre-qualification letter for the USDA’s Direct 502 Loan program available to low-income borrowers to purchase or construct a home with zero down payment.
In the fall of 2019, Akiyoshi was invited to the DHHL vacant lot selection at Kakaina in Waimānalo. She went with her pre-qualification letter in hand and was awarded a vacant lot. Once she had the lot and financing in place, she needed help building her home.
Enter, Honolulu Habitat for Humanity.
The second OHA-funded grant program that Akiyoshi took advantage of was Honolulu Habitat for Humanity’s Self Help Home Build Program. In 2019 and 2020, Honolulu Habitat received OHA Kūlia Grant funding for outreach to Hawaiian families to share about their low-cost affordable home building program.
After being awarded a DHHL lot, Akiyoshi enrolled with Honolulu Habitat and was soon notified that she had been selected for the program and Honolulu Habitat would help build her home.
“Pua came to us in 2019, and when she applied, we were already building some houses in that cul de sac. We wanted to get her in that queue as quickly as possible,” said Habitat Executive Director Jim Murphy.
“In the community of Kakaina, we’ve completed four houses and we will be building four more over the next year. All those families have come out and worked on each other’s homes. They were complete strangers before they started doing that. So it’s not just about building a house. It’s about building that community.”
Akiyoshi secured her financing and is working on the home build process. She looks forward to receiving the keys to her new home soon.
“I knew that Pua would need help through this process. She’s a widow. She’s by herself. She’s a kupuna. She needed somebody to support her, so I assured her I would be there for her,” Kalima said.
Akiyoshi is grateful for Kalima’s role in her life.
“Clarence Kalima – he made sure that I was on schedule,” she said. “I would notify him about something and he goes, ʻOkay, I’ll take care of it.’ I thank him so much.
“I did not want to move to the mainland. I did not want to be homeless. That was my fear even from when I was a child. I worry so much about finances, I wanted to make sure everything is in order. I’m excited – this is going to be my home now,” Akiyoshi said.
“It’s a good use of OHA’s funds,” she added, “that they’re giving money to these organizations because they are helping Hawaiian people to get into a home they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.”
Kalima is happy too.
“Homeownership allows a family to get a level up, to thrive, to take care of their ʻohana, to set down roots, and to build assets and wealth,” he said.
Mana i Mauli Ola: Focus on Quality Housing
OHA’s Strategic Plan “Mana i Mauli Ola” (Strength to Wellbeing) includes three foundations: ʻohana (family), moʻomeheu (culture) and ʻāina (land and water). OHA recognizes these foundations have the power to affect the wellbeing of Native Hawaiians.Therefore, they are woven into OHA’s plans to affect change in the areas of education, health, housing, and economics. These four directions will be used to guide OHA’s work to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians. Over the next 15 years, OHA will be implementing strategies, aligned with our foundations and directions, to achieve our envisioned outcomes for a thriving and abundant lāhui.
Leveraging partnerships to ensure Native Hawaiians can obtain affordable rentals as well as homeownership, while also engaging in opportunities to affect legislation that support Hawaiian Home Lands, overall housing costs, and housing supply will greatly enhance the ability for Native Hawaiians who so desire to remain in Hawaiʻi.
Outcome: Strengthened Capability for ʻOhana to Meet Living Needs, including Housing; Strengthened Effective Implementation of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act
Strategy 5: Advance policies, programs and practices that strengthen Hawaiian resource management knowledge and skills to meet the housing needs of their ʻohana.
- 5.1. Increase numbers/percent of Native Hawaiians who rent housing that meets their ʻohana’s financial and wellbeing needs;
- 5.2. Increase numbers/percent of Native Hawaiians who own housing that meets their ʻohana’s financial and wellbeing needs; and
- 5.3. Increase safety, stability, social support networks, and cultural connection in Native Hawaiian communities.
Strategy 6: Support implementation of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act and other efforts to meet the housing needs of ʻohana.
- 6.1. Increase affordable non-traditional housing options (e.g., accessory dwelling units/tiny houses, large multi-generational lots or homes) in communities of ʻohana’s choice;
- 6.2. Increase housing unit supply on Hawaiian Home Lands; and
- 6.3. Decrease rate of Native Hawaiian ʻohana out of state migration.