Photo: Cedric Duarte

Over the past few months in this space, we’ve explored the unique ways the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is providing diversified housing options to beneficiaries. Another way is through DHHL’s self-help construction program with Habitat for Humanity nonprofits throughout the state.

These partnerships, which have proved successful for many years, combine DHHL federal funding, in-kind donations of materials, and the sweat equity from beneficiary families, volunteers, local business, and contractors to provide a roof over the heads of some of the Department’s most vulnerable families.

Photo: Shannon Show and ‘ohana
Shannon Show and ‘ohana receive the keys to their new home built by Honolulu Habitat for Humanity in Kakaina, Waimānalo. – Photo: DHHL

When DHHL builds out a lot, beneficiaries on the receiving end don’t have to shoulder the cost of infrastructure. Utilizing legislative appropriations and revenues from available lands, the Department constructs roads, sewage systems, water pipes and all the infrastructure needed to prepare the homestead lot for the construction of a home.

In some cases, DHHL puts a home on these lots and the beneficiary pays for the vertical improvement. Over the past two years, the Department has prepared these vertical improvements in the form of turnkey houses for an average price of $358,000. The median home price for a single-family home in the state of Hawaiʻi ballooned to $770,000 in 2019. While turnkey homes for less than 50 percent of the State’s median home price are a welcomed relief for some applicants on the waiting list, there are others who find the cost remains out of reach.

In 2012, DHHL leadership recognized the need to provide more affordable options for potential lessees. Among several initiatives to create more affordable options was an effort to increase the number of vacant lots offered to beneficiaries. A vacant lot does not require a pre-qualification from a bank and allows an applicant to take advantage of a prepared lot with the necessary infrastructure in place. With the need for more affordable options in mind, the Department refocused on offering these lot options and offered 54 vacant lots in 2019 for award. This is nearly a third of the number of vacant lots awarded in the previous 20 years.

A vacant lot allows a beneficiary to construct a dwelling that is suitable to their needs. This could vary from a very affordable tiny home to a larger multi-generational house. Homesteaders may choose to work with a contractor, act as an owner/builder, or enter into a self-help construction program, like the partnerships DHHL has with Habitat nonprofits statewide.

In one of the most recent success stories, DHHL and Honolulu Habitat for Humanity partnered on a new single-family home construction that totaled a mere $267,000 to construct, coupled with a zero-interest mortgage made possible by federal funding through the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act.

Habitat homes and the generous strategic partnership with the building nonprofit have proved to be an important tool for providing affordable homes on Hawaiian homelands. DHHL is forecast to build more Habitat homes throughout the state and is committed to a continued partnership with Habitat for Humanity to get more native Hawaiians back on the land in a way that meets their needs.