A pair of funding packages that could lead to the construction of more than 2,900 homes on Hawaiian homelands and direct $100,000 each to Hawaiian beneficiaries cleared key legislative committees Thursday afternoon.

The Hawaii House and Senate are expected to vote on those measures next week.

Senate Bill 3359 and House Bill 2511 would give the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands $600 million to build homes in an effort to reduce the size of a waitlist of Hawaiian beneficiaries that has swelled to more than 28,000 applicants over the last several decades.

On Thursday, senators also voted to advance Senate Bill 2372, which would set aside $300 million to help in the construction of 1,744 new units across Hawaii’s four counties. That measure would also create a pilot program run by the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. to aid home buyers earning below 120% area median income. On Oahu, a family of four earning about $127,000 would meet that threshold.

Tax collections have been better than expected, and may leave lawmakers with more than $1 billion more to spend this year than previously anticipated. If the Senate gets its way, it appears much of that could go to building more housing units.

Kapolei aerial photo2
State senators plan to set aside at least $900 million to fund housing projects on DHHL lands and elsewhere in the state. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

SB 2372 and SB 3359 alone would appropriate more than $900 million for housing projects.

SB 3359 also sets aside $112 million to fund a down payment and mortgage assistance program for beneficiaries, defined under the law as those who are at least 50% Native Hawaiian. Under the Senate proposal, waitlisters could get up to $100,000 that could be used to pay down a mortgage or put toward a down payment on a home. Those individuals would still need to qualify for a home loan or already own a home that is not on DHHL land.

In exchange, the beneficiaries would remove their names from the waitlist. At that level of funding, the bill would help 1,120 people, or 4% of the DHHL waitlist.

The Senate proposal puts the remaining $487 million in the funding package toward various DHHL housing projects throughout the state. SB 3359 cleared the Senate Ways and Means Committee Thursday with a unanimous vote.

The bill would aid in the development of 2,910 lots on DHHL lands.

Cedric Duarte, a DHHL spokesman, said most of those projects are ready for groundbreaking. Others are at various stages of the permitting process. Most would begin construction during the next several years.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said all the projects should be underway by 2028.

In written testimony to lawmakers, DHHL called the funding measures “a historic infusion of resources to address the needs of potentially thousands of beneficiaries on DHHL’s waitlist.”

However, the department notes that it would still need to spend $6 billion on infrastructure alone to develop the lots necessary to clear the waitlist.

“Our whole objective is to reduce the list, too,” Dela Cruz said.

Dela Cruz, citing estimates from the department, said that the number of waitlisters who own their own homes outside of DHHL leases could be as high as 45% of the waitlist applicants.

The House Finance Committee passed House Bill 2511 in a separate hearing Thursday afternoon. That measure would also set aside a $600 million lump sum for DHHL.

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