Combined effort needed to honor a forgotten promise to Hawaiians
STORIES on the plight of native Hawaiians have made news recently. Perhaps the most moving was about a man "on the list" waiting for a Hawaiian Homestead award for 57 years ("Homestead awards end long wait for lucky few," Star-Bulletin, July 9). A homestead was awarded to his daughter two years after the man died. For more than 60 years Hawaiians have been led to believe by government (entities entrusted to their well-being) that by being "on the list" for a homestead, qualified Hawaiians will be awarded an almost zero-cost, land-lease homestead, which they can build a home on, farm or both.
Promise of an almost free homestead unfortunately kept many Hawaiians from purchasing land or a home in the open marketplace -- thinking they would, eventually, be awarded a homestead to which they are entitled. This has put many Hawaiians out of the economic mainstream of owning/increasing real property values. As renters instead of homeowners, they never catch up. Many might not even qualify for affordable housing as a result. More than 20,000 Hawaiians are waiting -- and the list is growing.
TWO GOVERNMENT entities responsible for helping Hawaiians are the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. DHHL grants homestead awards to Hawaiians from 200,000 acres held in trust for Hawaiians since about the 1930s. OHA collects income for use of Hawaiian lands by others, the income to be used to benefit Hawaiians.
The value of OHA/DHHL described assets, cash flow and buying/ banking/bonding power is huge, perhaps $1 billion or more -- yet the primary reason stated why DHHL is unable to deliver more homestead awards sooner is that it does not have the cash funds for infrastructure and utilities to improve and deliver the land in usable parcels to build homes on for Hawaiians! A logical solution would seem to be for DHHL (and its lands) to partner up with OHA (and its money) to create improved parcels to fulfill the promise of homestead awards to Hawaiians.
HOWEVER, some people at OHA and DHHL have adopted other priorities, which obviously include each entity perpetuating its existence independent of the other. They have become large organizations with huge overhead costs. OHA is building a major office complex for itself in Kakaako. DHHL is headquartered in prime downtown office space. Both entities have many employees and seem to be growing by the day. OHA recently proposed to buy a local TV station valued at $40 million, and justified paying for it based on OHA's large annual income as a "good investment."
What about Hawaiians? Shouldn't they be a good investment? Especially those who were promised a homestead and have been waiting (and dying) on-the-list for so many years?
NO DOUBT the good people working for DHHL and OHA are sincere in wanting to do their best for Hawaiians, but shouldn't the primary goal of both be to put everyone who is "on-the-list" actually on the land with a homestead award as soon as possible? Shouldn't these entities work together to this end? Shouldn't they down-size their operations and team-up to reduce their overhead to a minimum -- in order to spend the most on fulfilling the promise to those Hawaiians whom they are entrusted to look after, who are "on the list"?
Or has that promise been forgotten?
John Michael White is president of Hawaii Land Company, a real estate firm with offices in Honolulu and on the Big Island.