New Hawaiian homestead rules offer more options, but critics say they don't address backlog
For more than 34 years, Charles Ka'ai'ai has been waiting for a residential homestead from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL).
The state unveiled a new plan, but Ka'ai'ai says he's heard it all before.
"They've done that under Waihe'e and Cayetano," he says, "so it's the old story, we just get it wrapped up in new ribbon and handed to us."
The package today came from Governor David Ige, and it includes affordable rentals, high-rise condos and kupuna housing that were not available in the homestead package in the past. The idea is to allow developers to create more affordable housing.
"DHHL offering rentals is one more option as a result of these rules," Governor Ige said during a press conference where the new rules were signed. "The department can move forward with its project on Isenberg Street at the former Bowl-O-Drome site."
The former bowling alley in Mo'ili'ili will be DHHL's first urban high-rise project.
Officials say rentals allow beneficiaries time to qualify for a mortgage for a single family home, which typically sell for $200,000-$300,000.
But critics say the move doesn't address the root problem -- the agency's slow pace of turning over land to native Hawaiians.
State representative Gene Ward, who founded the Build More Hawaiian Homes Working Group that analyzed the problems with DHHL, said today's news is a good step but more creative solutions are available.
"I'd like to see the Bowl-O-Drome rent to own rather than just a rental," Rep. Ward said. "Getting land swaps, getting use of the not having to do conformity with counties only zoning. There's more ways of doing so many different things with all sorts of different kinds of houses, even off grid housing."
About 9,700 homesteads have been delivered since the enactment of the federal Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920. At the current pace, it could take at least a century to serve the current need.
"My dad died on the waiting list," Ka'ai'ai said. "Hopefully they can resolve it before I pass."
A resolution that can send a real message of home for all Hawaiians.