By Tyler Iokepa Gomes, DHHL Deputy to the Chair
In late 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) put forth a proposal that would have entertained limited casino gaming in the form of a single integrated resort on Hawaiian Home Lands.
The idea at the time was simple and fairly straightforward.
DHHL is in dire need of a consistent source of revenue that is significant enough to cover the estimated $6 billion needed for infrastructure costs to meet its obligation to 28,000 native Hawaiian beneficiaries awaiting a residential homestead lot.
The idea moved forward to the Legislature with vocality from those who supported the measure and loud criticism from those who disapproved.
A Beneficiary Consultation Report on the Proposed Limited Gaming Legislation was delivered to the Hawaiian Homes Commission in March 2021. The verbal and written responses showed that despite what appeared to be amplified disapproval, there was no beneficiary consensus either in favor of or against the gaming proposal.
Ultimately, and for varied reasons, DHHL’s limited gaming proposal did not make it through the 2021 Legislative session.
What did occur, however, was a meaningful conversation around the cost of developing infrastructure and the hurdles that obstruct new homestead development.
DHHL was allotted the platform to explain to legislators, in greater detail, its production pipeline – from environmental compliance, engineering and design, and final infrastructure construction. Our leaders were introduced to the time and costs involved in taking raw land, turning it into a developed lot, and ultimately a homesteading opportunity. This began to answer the repeatedly pondered question, “what is taking so long?”
The discussion became a foundational piece in the consequential actions of the Legislature that followed.
In January of this year, members of the House of Representatives made a historic pledge to commit $600 million in a lump sum to DHHL to help cope with the state’s affordable housing crisis and to get native Hawaiians onto their rightful land. Legislators punctuated that it was time to give DHHL the resources it needs to fulfill its fiduciary duty.
We had been heard, and we agreed.
The $600 million proposal became Act 279 with Gov. David Ige’s signature on July 11, 2022, just three days after the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act became 101 years old.
On Aug. 25, 2022, the Hawaiian Homes Commission unanimously approved a Preliminary Strategic Approach to Implement the new allocation. The Strategic Approach is the working document that will ultimately apprise the final Strategic Plan to the Hawaiʻi State Legislature.
The final plan is due on Dec. 10, 2022, as required by Act 279.
Complex challenges take innovative ideas to resolve. Those ideas don’t always become a reality in their initial form, but along the way, they can ignite a conversation that can become a catalyst for enduring change.
Beyond the new homesteads that will come from the $600 million, the Department, and I, have greater aspirations for what this new and broad dialogue means toward fulfilling the vision of Prince Kūhiō: a future where DHHL is consistently funded, native Hawaiians are returned to their rightful lands, and as a people, we step up to take on the responsibility of leading our island home forward with new ideas that address our most difficult problems.
Tyler Iokepa Gomes is deputy to the chairman of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands