Hawaiian homesteaders first to get pandemic relief funds to help pay off mortgage

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement has started accepting requests for $ 5 million in federal funds to help those on Hawaiian lands who have fallen behind on their mortgages due to the pandemic.

While tenants statewide have had access to rent assistance and utilities since May 2020, landlords have not had the same amount of assistance.

“We have about 4,000 mortgages on Hawaiian lands, and throughout the pandemic many of these residents have been hit financially, but there was no program to provide them with any kind of relief,” Cedric said. Duarte, a spokesperson for the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.

A sign warns of trespassing on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands homestead near Molokai Airport. Cory Lum / Civil Beat

The Hawaiian Houses Commission Act which was enacted in 1921, allows anyone over the age of 18 and having at least 50% Hawaiian blood to apply for property in three categories: residential, agricultural, or pastoral. The available land is limited and there is a waiting list of almost 29,000 candidates.

According to the DHHL waiting list, some people live their entire lives without leaving the waiting list. So many eligible Native Hawaiians spend decades renting or buying a home elsewhere.

In May, the agency partnered with Aloha United Way to distribute $ 7 million in rental and utility assistance to people on the waiting list for family properties. And between February and June, an additional rent relief of $ 7.4 million was released through the Council of Native Hawaiian Advancement, a nonprofit group that serves as a liaison with DHHL and other entities.

“Every time you enter a homestead there is a security knowing that you are surrounded by kanaka. »- Jan Makepa, resident of Waianae

The Mortgage Relief Program is DHHL’s fourth deployment of funds to help people who are struggling to pay their bills. While tenants only pay $ 1 a year for a 99-year lease, most people still have to pay a mortgage for the house on their land. DHHL implemented a mortgage deferral program in April 2020, but the 48% of tenants who deferred payments have accrued interest.

Richard Medeiros, deputy director of CNHA, said unused funds are still available to all residents of Hawaii who request rent relief.

Mortgage relief for the entire population is also underway, according to Gordon Pang, information officer at Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. He said the HHFDC will receive $ 50 million for families behind on their mortgages or already foreclosed due to the pandemic.

Pang explained that only 10% of that funding will be available by the end of the year through a pilot program for residents of the islands of Kauai and Hawaii, and said the state is waiting for the Treasury to approve. the remaining 90% in their Homeowner Assistance Fund Program.

“The state will work with the counties on distributing the remaining funds once they become available,” Pang said in an email.

According to DHHL Annual Report 2020, there are 8,427 residential land, 1,096 agricultural land and 410 pastoral land leased by the department to settlers. About 4,000 of them have mortgages. Medeiros said 157 applications had been received and 25 approved since the portal opened on September 16.

Sitting together in Kaupuni Neighborhood Park on the Waianae property, residents Georgie Navarro, Jan Makepa and Kapua Keli’ikoa-Kamai said the department should do more to educate their community about the new program.

“My mother’s generation, we taught them not to say anything. We taught them not to speak the language. We taught them to accept the things we said to them,” Makepa said. But she described the past year as a “wake-up call” – a time when they felt empowered to voice their needs and use programs to help Native Hawaiians.

Portrait of Jan Makepa, resident of Waianae.
Waianae resident Jan Makepa wants DHHL to raise awareness of the mortgage relief program. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

Duarte said community outreach is underway. He explained that the agency was intentionally rolling out notifications to different platforms over the coming weeks to avoid overloading application processors at CNHA.

While DHHL and CNHA posted the information on their website on September 16, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs newsletter will be released on Friday. Duarte said DHHL will be sending letters to each property in the coming weeks.

Aside from raising awareness, Makepa said the biggest issue throughout the pandemic has been going through the various requirements to be eligible for assistance with housing costs.

In 2018, his mother – the tenant of their Waianae property – passed away and Makepa wanted to transfer the lease to her son while continuing to wait for her own property on the waiting list which she joined in 1994. But in While waiting to officially transfer the lease, Makepa said she was refused rental assistance because she did not fall into the tenant category.

“People are desperate because there are people who say, ‘We’re going to turn off your electricity if you don’t pay your bill,’ and it’s stressful when you have someone out of work, ‘ she declared.

Unlike Makepa, Navarro has a fixed mortgage on his house, which currently houses four generations.

“I put on what other people can’t and that’s okay because they’re also trying to create their own future,” Navarro said.

From left to right, Jan Makepa, Georgiana Navarro and Kapua Keliikoa-Kamai stand at the Kaupuni neighborhood park.
From left to right, Jan Makepa, Georgiana Navarro and Kapua Keli’ikoa-Kamai stand together in the Kaupuni neighborhood park. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

Keli’ikoa-Kamai said one of the positives of the pandemic is better access to DHHL meetings and the ability to testify by video calls. She feels that DHHL meetings are finally accessible to outlying island communities and hopes that access continues to improve.

Despite the emotional hardships of losing loved ones to Covid-19, the three women smiled and laughed, sharing how their families felt closer than ever. As they folded up their chairs and headed for their cars, Makepa gave small potted popolo plants – known to treat breathing problems – to each of her friends.

“Every time you walk into a farm, there is security knowing that you are surrounded by kanaka,” Makepa said.

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