Sunday, July 8, 2001

Group to offer
mortgage services
to Hawaiians

Hawaii Community Assets also
hopes to open a bank
for native Hawaiians

By Pat Omandam

Hawaiian Community Assets Inc. may soon become a bank for native Hawaiians.

The Wailuku-based nonprofit organization will soon offer homeownership and mortgage services to native Hawaiians.

The organization is also working on a preliminary charter for Bank Aloha, a proposed native Hawaiian bank that will focus on commercial lending, as well as on the formation of a credit union to provide retail banking services primarily to Hawaiians.

Hawaiian Community Assets Executive Director Jim Wagele, a retired senior vice president at Bank of America, said last week the group has received operating capital of $150,000 to launch its home ownership program later this month and $500,000 for its mortgage lending program that will start in September.

"As of July 2nd, we've moved from a strictly development mode to actually delivering services," Wagele said.

The organization will serve as a community development financial institution, basically a nonprofit mortgage broker, to provide services to native Hawaiians.

The goal, Wagele said, is to offer a holistic approach to homeownership through outreach, training, counseling and mortgage lending.

Foremost is a focus to help those on the Hawaiian Homes waiting list. Wagele explained that eligible beneficiaries wait years to be awarded a homestead lot, but most eventually fail to qualify for a mortgage to buy the house on the lot. As a result, the lot is returned to the waiting list.

"The highest priority is to get Hawaiians onto the land, and that was the roots of the initiative," Wagele said.

The mortgage program, which will do business as Hawaii Community Lending, will also provide services to low- and moderate-income individuals who want to buy homes in other communities.

Wagele expects Hawaii Community Lending to make about 300 mortgage loans in the next two years. It will have two divisions: mortgage and education.

The company will be based on Oahu and headed by Carl Cunningham, former president of Honolulu Mortgage, Wagele said.

Board President Kehau Filimoe'atu said efforts to help Hawaiians secure housing began a decade ago. Part of the problem is that some Hawaiians are not savvy to the financial process of owning a home, she said.

The organization expects to provide counseling on homeownership to 400 to 500 people in the next two years.

"So our highest priority has always been to get our people back on the aina, and to help them access their benefits as beneficiaries of the trust," she said.

The organization's board also includes Charles Villeon, James Rust, former state Rep. Sol Kaho'ohalahala, Colin Kailiponi, Claudette Pico and Nancy Beck.

As for Bank Aloha, Wagele said he hopes by year's end to submit the final application for a preliminary charter to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal agency that regulates national banks.

If all goes well, the group hopes to open Bank Aloha in a year. Plans are for the bank to focus on commercial lending activities, such as affordable housing construction, small-business financing, community revitalization/improvement and other projects that create jobs.

The organizing board of Bank Aloha includes Wagele as proposed chief financial officer, Filimoe'atu, Kaho'ohalahala, attorney Robert Klein, Norman Austin and Paul Homan.

Native financial institutions have worked on the mainland. Two of the oldest and most successful are First American Credit Union in Window Rock, Ariz., and Blackfeet National Bank in Browning, Mont., said Ian Chan Hodges, a local community development finance expert who has led other grassroots efforts to create a native Hawaiian bank.

The North American Native Bankers Association was formed in 1998 to support and increase the number of Indian-owned banks in the U.S. and Canada, Chan Hodges said.

"NANBA believes that Indian ownership of their own banks is the cornerstone for economic self-determination for native communities," he said.

Meanwhile, the formation of a new credit union to provide traditional retail banking services is another way the group can help Hawaiians and low-income residents, Wagele said.

"We're pulling together all the different pieces of a holistic approach of not only taking steps to improve the lives of individual people, but also taking steps to create change in the community through financing of commercial activities," he said.

For more information on Hawaiian Community Assets programs, call (808) 244-3887.

E-mail to City Desk

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