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DHHL To Buy $8M Property In M??ili?ili From Kamehameha Schools For Housing

Department of Hawaiian Home Lands

UPDATED: 1/28/20, 5:33 p.m.

A new land deal in M??ili?ili struck by the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands could take potentially hundreds of Native Hawaiians off the homestead wait list in urban Honolulu.

The Hawaiian Homes Commission (HHC) voted yesterday to buy almost $8 million in M??ili?ili property from Kamehameha Schools for future housing development. The purchase could help address the growing wait list for Hawaiian homestead lots on O?ahu, where more than 10,000 applicants are still waiting.

At a press conference today announcing the land deal, HHC Chairman William J. Ail?, Jr., said the greatest demand on the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands' wait list is for O?ahu.

“O?ahu is also where we have the least amount of available land, roughly 3 percent of the department’s total land inventory," says Ail?. "Securing additional lands on O?ahu suitable for residential development will help to serve our beneficiaries.”

The properties include two abandoned low-rise apartment buildings and a vacant parking lot owned by Kamehameha Schools. The lots, located along Isenberg Street, sit across from the old Stadium Bowl-O-Drome site where DHHL plans to develop a high rise for affordable rentals.

Tim Streitz, chairman of the McCully-M??ili?ili Neighborhood Board, says development in M??ili?ili has been relatively quiet in recent years.

“We will start seeing more development occur,” predicts Streitz. “We’re aware of some major proposals with Kamehameha Schools land by Puck’s Alley. So that will be a major change to the neighborhood.”

Kamehameha Schools, the state’s largest private landowner, has plans to redevelop the 6.5 acres it owns in the area, covering Puck’s Alley and the former Varsity Theatre near the University of Hawai?i at M?noa. The estimated $450 million project called M??ili?ili Gateway would create student housing, retail space and a hotel.

Kamehameha Schools' CEO Jack Wong said at the press event that Kamehameha's ability to hand these lands over to DHHL provides a vital housing option to the native Hawaiian families served by both institutions. 

“Our organizations want to see every Hawaiian lead a healthy, successful life and this project represents that possibility for generations to come," said Wong.

Streitz says while this is the first he’s heard of the DHHL land deal, he’s somewhat relieved to hear that the department will be making use of the Isenberg abandoned apartment buildings.

“We’ve heard a lot of issues with it in terms of squatters and other kind of illegal activities occurring on the site. And so it’s a major concern for the residents,” said Streitz. “So it’ll be a good transition for the site that residents will be happy about.”

According to Hawaiian Homes Commission documents on the land deal, Kamehameha Schools took into consideration non-financial factors when evaluating the offers it received for the parcels. This includes the desire to collaborate with the department to enhance the well-being of native Hawaiians. 

DHHL's preliminary plans call for the renovation of about 30, one-bedroom units in the low-rise buildings. The units will be offered as affordable rentals until the Bowl-O-Drome site is ready. After that, the department may consider redeveloping the walk-ups into high-rises to accommodate more applicants on the waitlist.

But Streitz said the two- to three-story walk-ups are part of M??ili?ili’s charm and what makes the neighborhood special to a lot of people.

“So when they (DHHL) do develop, we hope that they reach out to us and we can have those community discussions on how any new development could best fit in with the neighborhood character and desires of the community,” said Streitz.

Of the nearly $8 million property deal, about $6.9 million will be covered by general obligation bonds and $1.75 million from the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust Fund.

A full appraisal of the properties will have to be completed before the acquisition is finalized. Under its agreement with Kamehameha Schools, DHHL has about five months left to close the deal.

DHHL manages 200,000 acres statewide for the purpose of awarding homestead lots to qualified Native Hawaiians. Under the 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, beneficiaries are defined as those with at least 50 percent Hawaiian blood.

The land deal comes two days before a Senate committee is set to voteon the confirmation of Gov. David Ige's appointees to lead the department.

After more than six hours of public testimony last week both in support of and opposition to the confirmation of DHHL Interim Chairman William Ail?, Jr., and DHHL Deputy Chairman Tyler Gomes, state Sen. Maile Shimabukuro of Wai?anae deferred decision-making to Thursday. 

DHHL Acquisition of M??ili?ili Property

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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