Bringing Housing for Hawaiians

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Keoni Souza: Trustee At-Large

In 2023, Gov. Josh Green issued three proclamations addressing affordable housing and has been actively addressing the urgent housing needs in the aftermath of the Lahaina wildfires.

The State of Hawaiʻi, together with DHHL and various agencies, has declared a “state of emergency” concerning affordable housing. OHA’s strategic plan prioritizes housing as one of our strategic directions. Each agency has established goals, strategic plans, and programs or projects aimed at enhancing affordable housing across the counties.

As an incoming trustee, I found myself asking the question: why aren’t we investing more in affordable housing initiatives? It’s high time for us to spearhead a statewide initiative, fostering collaboration to address these pressing housing needs. Our goal is to make a real impact on both the demand and supply, even if we start small with two to four units at a time.

My vision involves proposing changes to our strategic plan, with a heightened focus on prioritizing homes for Native Hawaiian families. While OHA’s current housing initiatives encompass various programs, there’s a crucial need to shift our emphasis from solely educating Hawaiians about becoming “occupancy ready” to actively engaging in housing development, providing housing assistance, and creating spaces tailored for our kūpuna.

We’re actively exploring proposed partnerships with DHHL and other Native Hawaiian trusts, seeking effective strategies to expand these collaborations and implement more impactful housing solutions.

The urgency becomes evident when we witness more Hawaiians considering moving out of our island home. As the Native Hawaiian diaspora continues to grow, preserving the essence of Hawaiʻi becomes vital. By providing housing, perpetuating our Hawaiian ways, and rejuvenating the lāhui, we can ensure Native Hawaiians stay connected to their roots, preventing the loss of our community to foreign hands.

A significant step in this direction is the recent acquisition by the City and County of Honolulu of a 3.8-acre parcel that includes 866 Iwilei Road, 850 Iwilei Road, and 505 Kaʻaʻahi Street, representing a noteworthy $51.5 million investment in affordable housing.

OHA also owns several properties in close proximity, offering a potential opportunity for collaboration to revitalize the historically important area of Iwilei.

So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get more Hawaiians into affordable homes – one family at a time.