However, the chairs of the Senate and House Hawaiian affairs committees are proposing two different approaches to providing housing options to certain DHHL beneficiaries.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands could soon have more tools to house beneficiaries who are either homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless under a proposed tiny homes program targeted at Oahu’s west side.

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Senate Bill 1040 would authorize DHHL to establish a “micro homes” program, similar to the kauhale concept championed by Gov. Josh Green and others, that would be open to eligible DHHL waitlisters. The eligibility requirements will be left up to the department, according to the bill.

There are more than 29,000 applicants seeking residential, agricultural or pastoral leases made available by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1921. The state has failed its promise to deliver on many of those leases, and hundreds have died on the waitlist without access to homesteads.

SB 1040 cleared another hurdle in the House Wednesday when it passed the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee. The bill now awaits a hearing in the House Finance Committee.

During the hearing on March 22, House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Chairman David Tarnas recommended that the legislation be amended to allow DHHL to develop the amount of housing units it sees fit so long as they are located on the Leeward Coast. 

HomeAid Hawaii Opens Doors at Kama’okū.
The current draft of Senate Bill 1040 proposes micro housing units for eligible DHHL beneficiaries. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021)

Recently, the department has been eyeing other housing options besides traditional homestead lots thanks in part to a $600 million appropriation from the Legislature last year. Those options, such as rental housing or others, could help those on the waitlist.

Half of DHHL beneficiaries who responded to a recent agency survey were identified as “less qualified” for financing a DHHL turn-key house, according to the 2020 DHHL Beneficiaries Study Applicant Report

The House’s version of SB 1040 is a departure from Shimabukuro’s original draft, which proposed rental options for DHHL beneficiaries modeled after DHHL’s Kapolei Ho‘olimalima Rent-With-Option-To-Purchase Pilot Program that successfully contracted 69 out of 70 families in purchasing the home.

However, it’s not an exact copy.

“In my opinion the Ho‘olimalima program is very different from what Sen. Shimabukuro is proposing,” said DHHL Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act Government Relations Program Manager Lehua Kinilau.

The idea behind the Ho‘olimalima program was to provide people whose income could not finance homeownership some time to rent and eventually purchase the home at a reduced cost.

The Senate drafts of SB 1040 would have authorized the DHHL to purchase land for the pilot program and. Shimabukuro estimated costs at about $3 million.

“But it is ultimately up to the money chairs whether this is something that they have an inclination to fund or not,” she said.

Shimabukuro said such a program should provide common facilities in the development that better the livelihoods of individuals, including cooking stations and common spaces, alongside medical and support services and transportation hubs to off-site service appointments. 

The intent of the program was to make housing “reachable” through low-cost rentals for qualified individuals in need. 

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During the rental period of 10 to 15 years, Shimabukuro hopes that renters will use the time to build-up savings, improve credit scores and receive counseling services that will provide them with the capability and skills of becoming a homeowner.

Shimabukuro said that Native Hawaiians are often affected by the housing crisis because their whole way of life prior to being colonized did not involve land ownership.

“They were dispossessed of their culture, language and land,” Shimabukuro said. “Many of the remnants of that violence that was perpetrated against them still remain.” 

There’s a chance that Shimabukuro’s rental proposal could still make it through this session.

If SB 1040 clears the House, it will likely go to a conference committee where senators and representatives negotiate changes on the bill, unless the Senate agrees to the House drafts.

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