Empowering Native Hawaiians to Own Homes

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Keli‘i Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

Heide Kila of Waiʻanae expresses a common sentiment held by Native Hawaiians.

“We’ve been renters all our lives, so we’ve never had the opportunity to buy a home because we just fall short on many points. So hopefully…everybody has an opportunity and a chance to become homeowners in Hawaiʻi, where we live and grew up.”

Homeownership rates within the Native Hawaiian population remain lower compared to non-Hawaiians. According to OHA’s Office of Strategy Management, 57% of Native Hawaiians are homeowners compared to 61% of non-Hawaiians. 73% of Native Hawaiians who are not homeowners say it is too expensive, while 45% say that they cannot afford a down payment.

OHA has a constitutional responsibility to advocate for the overall wellbeing of Native Hawaiians. This responsibility includes ensuring that beneficiaries have a pathway to become homeowners and the ability to build generational wealth.

To address the lack of homeownership, OHA adopted the Mana i Mauli Ola Strategic Plan. OHA’s Strategic Plan focuses on “leveraging partnerships to ensure that Native Hawaiians obtain homeownership.” On June 28, the Board of Trustees approved a $1.5 million grant to the Honolulu Habitat for Humanity.

According to Edna Johnson, OHA’s grants supervisor, within two years, nine Native Hawaiians are projected to become new homeowners and 36 Native Hawaiians are expected to benefit from the project.

Nine homes may not seem like much, but it represents a very significant value for only $1.5 million – especially since a single median price home in Hawaiʻi is over $1 million. OHA’s housing grant is a step in the right direction to make more beneficiaries homeowners.

On a larger scale, with the potential to make homeowners out of thousands of Native Hawaiians, is the state’s appropriation of $600 million to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL). This historic funding is projected to significantly reduce the number of Native Hawaiians (now nearly 29,000) on the DHHL waiting list.

In addition, Hawaiian Community Assets (HCA), in partnership with Hawaiʻi Community Lending, provides homebuyer counseling and community lending products for low- and moderate-income families. HCA’s services include Empowering Native Hawaiians to Own Homes down payment grants of up to $7,500 and affordable mortgage loans of up to $100,000.

The Hawaiian Community Development Corporation (HCDB) is another organization that offers financial services to beneficiaries. HCDB is an “emerging Native Community Development Financial Institution” which offers the “Homestead Loan Fund program.” This program provides financing to Native Hawaiian families for building small homes on vacant lots.

Overall, the newly appropriated DHHL funds and financial services provided by organizations like Hawaiian Community Assets and the Hawaiian Community Development Corporation can all contribute to significant increases in homeownership for Native Hawaiians.

Despite these valuable services, thousands of beneficiaries continue to struggle with purchasing a home. OHA recognizes that it has the capacity to increase homeownership for beneficiaries.

For example, OHA has can continue awarding grants to organizations that have the capability to provide more occupancy-ready homes for Native Hawaiians. In addition, OHA could seek to expand the Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Fund (NHRLF) to include mortgage loan products, thereby reducing loan limitations, as identified by OHA Loan Fund manager Aikūʻē Kalima.

It is essential that we continue to work toward ensuring the financial wellbeing of our beneficiaries, especially by helping them become homeowners. The homeownership process can provide a pathway for Hawaiians to attain financial success, which will in turn benefit all of Hawaiʻi.

Ke holomua ka poʻe Hawaiʻi, lanakila nā kānaka a pau ma Hawaiʻi nei (when the Hawaiian people succeed, everyone in Hawaiʻi succeeds).