Thursday, February 14, 2002

OHA logo

Apoliona takes helm
of OHA board

Housing partnership advances

By Pat Omandam

The winds of political change have once again swept through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, this time returning Haunani Apoliona as board chairwoman while Clayton Hee contemplates a future outside of OHA.

"It's not a secret in the state of Hawaii that I have other plans that will take me out of this office," Hee said yesterday, just minutes before a group of trustees unseated him as chairman. Hee has previously said he is considering a run for lieutenant governor as a Democrat.

At yesterday's OHA meeting, trustee Clayton Hee, above, was ousted as OHA chairman in favor of Haunani Apoliona, below.

This is the sixth change in OHA leadership since 1997, and since then each chairman has averaged just nine months at the head of the agency's koa board table. Last Sept. 25, Hee took over the top post from Apoliona after five of nine trustees wanted a leadership change to cope with the slumping state economy following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Yesterday, one of those trustees, Linda Dela Cruz of the Big Island, decided to change sides and back Apoliona as chairwoman. Dela Cruz acknowledged she was the catalyst for the reorganization because she did not feel included in board leadership. Others, however, said her actions were spurred by a conflict with Hee over travel and travel-related expenses.

Rowena Akana, who was ousted as vice chairwoman, said Dela Cruz was not left out of the loop. Akana and trustee Charles Ota also criticized the new board leadership for saying OHA was unstable and inactive under Hee's leadership.

They cited a list of new programs approved at the committee level earlier yesterday that shows the leadership has been busy, including a home ownership partnership with lender Fannie Mae and a five-year, $1.525 million appropriation to the University of Hawaii Center for Hawaiian Studies.

Akana said the board shake-up was purely political and there was no reason for it. Hee even offered to resign as chairman on May 1 and allow changes to standing committees as a show of unity while the Legislature was in session. But the new majority declined, she said. "OHA should not be about whether we like each other or not ... but unfortunately at OHA, it is so political that the grab for power is more important than the people we represent," Akana said.

When asked by other trustees what she would do differently as chairwoman, Apoliona said for starters she would schedule regular board meetings and ensure all proposals were thoroughly reviewed at the committee level before seeking board approval.

Hawaiians who attended the meeting urged the board to work together because OHA's existence is being threatened in the legal and legislative arenas.



OHA committee OKs
housing partnership
with Fannie Mae

By Pat Omandam

One of the issues facing the new leadership of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board is whether to give final approval to a homeownership program that allows Hawaiians to buy a home with no upfront cash needed.

An OHA committee approved the measure yesterday, a few hours before trustee Haunani Apoliona took over the board chairmanship from Clayton Hee.

Under the program, lender Fannie Mae, a national private mortgage company, has agreed to invest $100 million in the Hawaiian community by providing 100 percent mortgage loans for qualified owner-occupant buyers and an additional 3 percent in second mortgage loans to cover down payments and closing costs.

OHA, in turn, would guarantee to underwrite the 3 percent second mortgages, up to $3 million. OHA officials say the program allows Hawaiians who have good credit and a steady income to qualify to buy homes as high as $450,000 with no money down. About 500 Hawaiian families will benefit from it, said Patti Tancayo, OHA housing officer.

Tancayo said Hawaiians who earn as much as $100,000 a year can participate as long as they meet credit and income qualifications. Proof of Hawaiian ancestry will be through an affidavit. The application process will be handled through agreements at First Hawaiian Bank, Bank of Hawaii and Central Pacific Bank.

"The two barriers of homeownership are down payment and closing costs," she said. "Through this program, we're removing the two barriers."

Trustee Rowena Akana, who lobbied Fannie Mae officials in Washington, D.C., over the past year to get involved with the Hawaiian community, said the program is significant because there is no other like it in the country.

"Once qualified for this program, they will have 100 percent financing, so they don't have to put out any money at all, if they choose not to," Akana said.

And for those people who do not qualify for these loans, Fannie Mae has agreed to provide a special program for them, while OHA would provide counseling to help them qualify.

Trustees said they see no problem with Fannie Mae earmarking a program just for Hawaiians, given it has done so for other ethnic groups. Nevertheless, they expect the program, if approved, to be challenged in court as have other programs since the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2000 struck down OHA's Hawaiians-only voting restriction for its board elections.

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E-mail to City Desk


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