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Star-Advertiser reporter Rob Perez wins 2 national awards for coverage of Hawaii’s homesteading program

GEORGE F. LEE / 2019
                                Honolulu Star-Advertiser investigative reporter Rob Perez.
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GEORGE F. LEE / 2019

Honolulu Star-Advertiser investigative reporter Rob Perez.

The Asian American Journalists Association today named Honolulu Star-Advertiser investigative reporter Rob Perez the recipient of two national awards for his coverage of the state’s homesteading program for Native Hawaiians.

Perez and ProPublica data reporter Agnel Philip received the association’s Excellence in Investigative Reporting award for 2020 for a series, called “Promised Land,” revealing fundamental flaws in the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands program.

AAJA also honored Perez with its Excellence in Pacific Islander Reporting award, a new category, for work he did in 2021. His stories, part of the “Promised Land” series, also were co-published with ProPublica.

“The Star-Advertiser remains committed to quality, high-impact investigative journalism, and we’re thrilled to see the excellent reporting by Rob and ProPublica receive such prestigious national honors,” said Dennis Francis, the newspaper’s president and publisher.

Since 2020, Perez has been working in partnership with ProPublica, a New York-based journalism nonprofit, to investigate the chronically underfunded homesteading initiative, which is designed to serve people who are at least 50% Native Hawaiian. Perez is one of six ProPublica distinguished reporting fellows around the country focusing on local investigative projects.

House Speaker Scott Saiki described the Star-Advertiser/ProPublica coverage as being “absolutely a factor” when he unveiled historic legislation in January to appropriate $600 million for the homesteading program. The Legislature unanimously approved the bill, and Gov. David Ige signed it into law earlier this month. The funding, easily the largest one-time cash infusion in the program’s 101-year history, will enable DHHL to expedite the development of homestead housing and help reduce a waitlist now topping 28,000 Hawaiians.

That wasn’t the only impact linked to the “Promised Land” series. Last year, when Perez exposed numerous congressionally approved private real estate deals that deprived the homesteading program of excess federal land, Hawaii’s two U.S. senators vowed that such circumventions wouldn’t happen again.

“I’ve been privileged to work on deep-dive reporting projects that have made a difference and will benefit Native Hawaiians for years to come,” Perez said. “I’m honored that they have trusted me to tell their stories.”

Perez, the recipient of multiple national awards, has been a journalist for more than 40 years. He has worked for newspapers in Florida, California, Hawaii and Guam, where he’s from.

Perez wasn’t the only Hawaii journalist honored Wednesday by AAJA. Anita Hofschneider, a reporter at Civil Beat, received the 2020 award for Excellence in Pacific Islander reporting. Perez and Hofschneider were the first two recipients of the new award.

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