Nearly half of Native Hawaiians awarded homestead lots under former Gov. Linda Lingle still haven’t gotten their homes.
Lingle, who is now running for the U.S. Senate, touted her accomplishments in moving applicants off of a decades-old waiting list when she left office in 2010. But her record has come under fire by Native Hawaiian advocates and a review of data by Civil Beat shows that hundreds of lots designated for new homes stand empty.
Lingle’s retrospective website, titled “The Lingle Years,” says that the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which was led by Micah Kane at the time, awarded nearly 2,500 homestead leases to Native Hawaiians — more than had been awarded during DHHL’s 80 year history.
But about 1,100, or 45 percent, of these leases haven’t been executed.
During Lingle’s 2002 campaign for governor, she pledged to get rid of the waiting list for homestead plots — which dates back to the 1970s — within five years. But the list increased by about 25 percent during her time in office and now totals more than 25,000 people.
Lingle’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
But Kane, in an interview with Civil Beat, said that while the homestead policy wasn’t perfect, there were successes.
“Our intent was very genuine in trying to provide another opportunity for a Native Hawaiian to get on the land,” he said. “I think you have to grab areas of success in each program and continue to build upon it, recognize where the challenges are at and try to do things better each time. It was an honor to serve our beneficiaries during that time and I hope for the best for them.”
But for critics, the data is the latest insult in a string of disappointments.
“She used the alliance (with Native Hawaiians) to get into office. She claimed credit for what she couldn’t produce. And now she’s running for U.S. Senate on a record that was supposed to be a stellar performance for the Hawaiian Homes program,” said Alan Murakami, an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.
DHHL, which is charged with managing 200,000 acres of land reserved for Native Hawaiians, issued hundreds of what are called “paper leases” during Lingle’s eight-year tenure.
Successful applicants were given a homestead with the promise that these lots would be developed into subdivisions.
The paper leases, most of which were awarded between 2005 and 2007, make up more than half of those issued under Lingle, and the program has so far proven largely unsuccessful.
Out of about 1,400 paper leases that were issued, only about 270 homes are occupied — less than 20 percent — according to DHHL data.
Crystal Kua, a spokesperson for DHHL, said there are a number of reasons why hundreds of leases hadn’t been executed.
“One is that construction of some of the subdivisions is still ongoing. The more prevalent reason is that some lessees aren’t able to qualify for a loan before their house is built,” she said.
Kua noted that the information was anecdotal as DHHL lacks statistics. There could be other reasons — an applicant might decline an offering because they can’t relocate, they may have lost their job or the home could be too expensive, she said.
No homes have been completed in two of the planned seven subdivisions — east Kapolei on Oahu and Waiohuli on Maui — according to DHHL data. Home construction in others has been slow.
Armstrong Development won a bid to build 300 homes on the Big Island, but has only completed construction on 42 lots, according to Daniel Sandomire, the company’s vice president. He said that about a quarter of the homes built in the Lai Opua subdvision stand empty.
“Everyone was qualified in 2010 when we sold them,” said Sandomire. “But by the time we finished people had dropped out.”
The developer covers construction costs and is on the hook if it can’t lease out the homes. The units range in price from $214,000 to $300,000.
Kane said that the low occupancy numbers don’t mean that the paper lease program has failed.
“There are many success stories in that 20 percent,” he said about the number of people who have received homes. “Previous to this award program the biggest challenge to accepting that lease was qualifying for a loan. What this allowed us to do was to provide a high level of certainty to a beneficiary so that they could get themselves in a position to qualify for a loan.”
The program implemented under Lingle and Kane was called the Undivided Interest Award Program. It was designed to give “lessees time to qualify for a mortgage loan, and fix their finances while DHHL develops the project,” according to Lingle’s website.
And data from DHHL shows that there was clearly a need for this assistance. Nearly 500 people took part in the department’s Home Ownership Assistance Program. But it’s hard to say how much it helped. DHHL doesn’t have data on how many of those that participated ultimately received home financing.
“The paper lease situation was not Lingle taking people off of the waiting list,” she said. “It was Lingle pretending to take people off of the waiting list and creating another waiting list.”
But she said there is some merit to the program. Recipients can pass the lease on to a relative if they can’t qualify for a loan or the home isn’t built during their lifetime.
“So the silver lining to those paper leases was that at least they could pass on that legacy to a grandchild or child,” she said. “In the 92-year history of the trust I would have to count that as a win.”
DHHL has not awarded any more paper leases since the end of the Lingle administration, according to Kua. She said the department is just trying to fulfill the current obligation and get as many people in the homesteads as they can. There’s no deadline by which people who have been awarded a lease must be in a home.
Asked if she thought the program was a success, she said “the numbers speak for themselves.”
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