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State agency seeks new ways to place Hawaiian families

By Leila Fujimori

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:42 a.m. HST, May 10, 2011


This story has been corrected.

For Tracy and Jeff Pedrina, moving into their new four-bedroom Hawaiian Home Lands house in Waimanalo in March with their children and the family dog fulfilled a 40-year family quest.

Despite being on the waiting list for a home since age 19, Tracy Pedrina, 42, got one in time to raise three of her five children in it by accepting a house offered to her 72-year-old father. Her father rents a home, one of her children is already living on her own and another is in college.

"My dad waited for more than 40 years, but he can't afford it now so he transferred it over to me," said Pedrina, who grew up in a small rental apartment with five siblings in Waimanalo behind the feed store. "He's grateful he was able to pass it to the children."

With a new chairman at the Hawaiian Homes Commission, officials are taking a fresh look at ways to provide homes or homestead lots to the nearly 21,000 people on the residential waiting list.

The department has put 2,644 families into homes or on agricultural or pastoral lots in the last decade, averaging 264 a year. The increases, however, have fluctuated from year to year, ranging from 58 to 692.

Chairman Alapaki Nahale-a said he would like to set a realistic target of completing at least 200 houses a year.

Nahale-a wants to first assess why people are still spending years, even decades, on the waiting list. The department has asked the Legislature to fund an analysis of what kind of opportunities they want and where they want to live, he said, "so we build in the right places and build the right kind of homesteading opportunities."

"I've met many Hawaiians that have been offered homesteading opportunities that could not take them because of their poor opportunities," Nahale-a said. "That's why I'm so adamant about providing more affordable options."

In February, soon after his appointment by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Nahale-a looked at the possibility of offering affordable rentals, an idea favored by his predecessor, Micah Kane.

But that proposal, which is still being researched, might have to be modified to a rent-to-own option since the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act calls for homesteading, and rentals might not qualify.

"The message is that we need to provide homesteading options that our beneficiaries can afford," he said, whether they are rent-to-own, multifamily dwellings or more affordable houses.

For others on the waiting list, the primary issue is not cost, but their life circumstances. And for yet others who have been offered land, it might be an unsuitable location, such as on a different island from where they live and work.

"Being in touch with where homesteaders are" is crucial, Nahale-a said.

The department recently opened four developments with a total of 119 homes and residential self-help lots on three islands. In the pipeline are four more projects on three islands, with a total of 388 houses or lots to be completed in the next few years.

The Kumuhau subdivision the Pedrinas moved into in Waimanalo and the 19 homes in the Kaupuni development in Waianae Valley offer high-quality, single-family homes with green features, which make the houses less expensive to live in.

Nahale-a calls Kaupuni exciting because it offers families, all of whom are at or below 80 percent of the area median income level for Oahu, life in a sustainable subdivision using photovoltaic panels so their energy costs are zero. At the same time, they use traditional practices of communally preparing and growing their own food and feature plans and space for aquaculture, agriculture, aquaponics and hydroponics.

But Nahale-a's goal of building 200 houses a year would barely chip away at the 21,000-person waiting list.

"Even if we develop all of those 1,000 units planned for East Kapolei in the next year, that's only 1,000 units," and would hardly make a dent, said Crystal Kua, spokeswoman for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

It takes time to build the infrastructure, as well as to build the homes or develop the homesteads.

"When Hawaiian Homes got 200,000 acres, we got the worst lands available," Nahale-a said, much of it remote with no water, roads or electricity.

The department has added to its 1921 land inventory, such as in Kapolei to provide for homesteaders wanting to live in that region.

But Nahale-a also is returning to offering homesteaders agricultural and ranching options.

He said it could be trickier since upfront infrastructure costs can be higher and agriculture is a tough industry.

"We want to make sure we give homesteaders agricultural and pastoral options that are viable," he said.

Pedrina counts herself fortunate, knowing the waiting list is long and no more homes are available in Waimanalo, where she grew up.

At her father's encouragement, Pedrina, who has more than half Hawaiian blood quantum, got on the waiting list for a Hawaiian Home Lands house at 19.

The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act provides for awarding home lands for homestead purposes to individuals who are not less than one-half Hawaiian ancestry (their biological line must be proved through documentation) and are at least 18 years old.

The Pedrinas were the first to receive the keys to one of 45 houses in the Kumuhau subdivision. It took three years and $8.5 million to build the infrastructure and is taking roughly a year to complete all the houses.

The base price for the homes ranges from $223,993 for two bedrooms and two baths to $322,557 for five bedrooms and three baths. The homesteader pays for the cost of the home, and DHHL pays for the infrastructure costs.

DHHL broke ground in June 2008 on the Kumuhau project infrastructure and had weather delays, the department acknowledges, but the project is on schedule to meet its August completion date.

The homes are equipped with several green features, including photovoltaic and solar water heating systems, a Rain Hog — a 50-gallon barrel that stores rainwater for landscaping irrigation — dual-flush, low-flow toilets, light-colored standing-seam metal roof, which reflects heat, and insulated walls.

"I love it and can't say enough about it," Pedrina said.

To the Pedrina family the house is grandiose after the challenge of sharing a small four-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath townhouse with three children and Jeff Pedrinas' parents.

Tracy said she would have loved to have the home while their five children were growing up.

CORRECTION

» All families in Kaupuni, a Hawaiian Home Lands development, are at or below 80 percent of the area median income level for Oahu. A Page B3 story yesterday said 80 percent live below the adjusted median income.






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