Rising taxes might force ailing mom from home
I AM a Hawaiian man living and working in Los Angeles. I use the Internet to keep abreast of issues in Hawaii because of my aloha aina and my concern for family and friends who remain in the islands. I long to return home someday if I can afford to live in the state of my birth.
My 85-year-old mother owns a two-bedroom, one-bath, single-wall construction home built in Kailua by Mr. Q.C. Lum after World War II.
My parents were some of the first to purchase in the "Coconut Grove" tract, moving from Waikiki with a down payment loan from grandmother and a $20,000 mortgage. My mother worked as a secretary first for Bishop Trust, then at the American Lung Association. When Kaneohe Ranch began selling off the leases my parents jumped at the opportunity, refinancing with what little they had to purchase the land the house sits on. Father passed away in 1987, leaving my mother the property.
The house is paid off now, after years of scrimping and saving on a secretary's income. Like most of our kupuna, my mother lives on a fixed income with the financial tidewaters hovering just below her chin. The maladies of age have sent her to the Castle Medical Center several times. Her illnesses left limited mobility and whopping portions of hospital bills not covered by HMSA, which she continues to struggle paying for to this day. A roommate provides some financial relief and assistance with meal preparation.
Today, the city considers her property to be worth more than $500,000 in the high-rolling, fast-growing, bungalow community market of Kailua. Homes down along the beach three blocks away go for millions. Forget that this house is barely holding together. The old joke -- that if the termites stop holding hands, we're in trouble -- is true in this case. Paint and repairs are needed, but cannot be afforded.
Some would say, "Well, it's the property that is of value!" I say they are wrong. It's the people who inhabit that property who are of value!
The city continues to collect growing amounts on property taxes, garbage and sewer fees and license renewal fees from elderly residents on fixed incomes. The city can't need this money as much as my mother; give it back to her and others like her. Provide meaningful tax relief for those who cannot afford this heavy burden.
Oh yes, we did look into the reverse mortgage. We found out that if she gave up all her possessions and basically became a ward of the state, she would be taken care of. Oh, she would get to keep her wedding band. She rejected this and several other options. When I asked why, my mother told me it was because she wanted to make sure I had a place to come home to.
My grandmother called some of our last Hawaiian princes and queens friends. A feather cape given her on the occasion of the birth of her first son hangs in the Bishop Museum. She was in the first female graduating class of Kamehameha Schools, and was later appointed by the territorial governor of Hawaii, Wallace R. Farrington, as the first president of the newly formed Hawaiian Homes Commission. My grandfather was the captain of the Port of Honolulu and worked for U.S. Customs. My uncle wrote the song, "Oh We're Going To a Hukilau," and many other popular Hawaiian tunes of the 1940s and '50s. Our family has consistently contributed to the culture and welfare of our islands. All my mother wants is to make sure that our family heritage does not have to be sold off at a price for which I could never afford to buy it back.
Please pass on this story to your friends and acquaintances in Honolulu's government. Ask them to revise the tax structure to provide relief for older residents who are rapidly being displaced by the crush of out-of-control taxes and the lack of sensitivity to the plight of elderly and low-income property owners. Tell your friends in government that I long to return home someday if I can afford to live in the state of my birth.
Be bold and make the changes that count. Aloha.
David Edward Kalani Peterson lives in Torrance, Calif.