State to dole out
loans and land to
12,000 homesteaders

The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has pledged to give 12,000 residents on its homestead waiting list a chance to own a home or land within the next five years.

Officials say the move is part of a recently completed master plan, a response to a 2002 state audit criticizing the department on numerous problems, including ineffective management.

The plan also aims to increase the services of DHHL, which was created 81 years ago by Congress to place eligible native Hawaiians on more than 200,000 acres.

"I want people to see our department as an asset, not as a leech," said Hawaiian Homes Chairman Micah Kane. "We realize that we've got to do some things differently."

Kane said yesterday that about half the people on the department's waiting list are expected to sign up for the home loans they are offered.

There are 20,000 names on the waiting list, with 12,000 residents waiting for residential property. The rest are waiting for agriculture land.

Kane also said that while most of the agency's applicants are on Oahu, almost 97 percent of the department's land holdings are on other islands.

To meet housing demands, the agency hopes to expand its Oahu housing inventory and is evaluating whether two undeveloped subdivisions in Kapolei owned by the Housing and Community Development Corporation of Hawaii could be suitable or homesteads.

Kane said the agency is also talking to independent landowners. He declined to give details, saying it is too early in negotiations.

The department's master plan also calls for decreasing the agency's loan delinquency rate, which stands at about 40 percent.

During much of last year, the department received payments on only about half of its roughly $1 million in loans.

Kane said delinquency is expected to decrease now that the agency has three full-time loan collectors, up from one. He said the employees knock door to door, reminding residents that their payments are due and giving them options for repayment.

"People need to feel like they'll be held accountable," Kane said, adding that loan collection increased after six Hilo families were evicted in February from homestead properties.

Ben Henderson, deputy to the chairman, also noted that those people who turn to Hawaiian Home Lands for loans have already been turned down by other institutions.

"We're the lender of last resort," he said.

By June the department wants to complete the revisions to its loan policy and procedures manual recommended by the state auditor's report.

In the coming months, Kane also hopes to institute programs aimed at keeping the agency's beneficiaries in their homes and able to make loan payments.

The department's master plan includes a grant-funded pilot project that would train residents for licensed senior care by taking care of their elderly relatives.

Kane said he plans to go before a joint legislative hearing Feb. 6 to outline how the department will implement its master plan.


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