Native Hawaiians who have lost their jobs and income due to COVID-19 may qualify for as much as six months of rental assistance under a new state program.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands program will be administered by Aloha United Way.

Applicants must be Native Hawaiian and on DHHL’s waitlist for housing. To qualify, families must have a household income that doesn’t exceed 80% of the federal median income. If approved, they’ll receive funds for a security deposit and rent for up to six months.

DHHL William Aila during Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee meeting.
DHHL Chairman William Aila announced a new rental assistance program for Native Hawaiians on Monday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

DHHL is preparing to offer 1,300 lots over the next five years to eligible families, according to William Aila, Jr., the chairman of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

“We hope the relief program will keep families in a position where they’ll be ready to take those 1,300 lots when they become available,” he said at a press conference Monday.

The agency has also offered financial assistance for mortgage payments during the pandemic.

Norm Baker, interim Aloha United Way President and CEO, estimated that 2,500 households will be saved from eviction.

“Of course if the family’s income is zero, as in many of the situations that we have today, the department through Aloha United Way will cover the entire security deposit as well as rent for up to six months,” Aila said.

Applications must include two months of the most recent pay stubs, bank statements, rental and lease documents, two years of tax documents, and proof that their unemployment was caused by COVID-19.

Those interested in applying should call Aloha United Way’s 2-1-1 hotline to see if they’re eligible.

The COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program includes a total of $7 million in Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant (NHHBG) funds from the federal government.

The funds are approved under the Native Hawaiian Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) and other federal laws, Aila said.

In Hawaii, about 13% of coronavirus cases involve Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islander communities. Together, they represent 10% of the population when people of more than one race are excluded.

While Hawaii seems to have flattened the curve of the rate of COVID-19 infection, its unemployment rate has grown from 3% to more than 35% and is now considered the highest in the nation.

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