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Lawmakers hear public testimony on proposed $600M for Hawaiian Home Lands

Courtesy Department of Hawaiian Home Lands

Updated 5 p.m. March 4

Hawaiʻi lawmakers heard public testimony Thursday on a proposal to invest $600 million into long-term affordable housing for Native Hawaiians.

House Bill 2511 would give the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands a one-time lump sum payment to create housing for the more than 28,000 Native Hawaiians on the DHHL waitlist.

The measure received approval Thursday in both the House Finance Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee. It will now go to a third and final floor vote.

Kūhiō Lewis, CEO of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, said receiving his Hawaiian homestead lot 12 years ago changed his life.

"If it not for that award, I would not be where I am today. It has provided me amazing opportunities in life: stability, a place for my kids to sleep at night," Lewis said. "And this is what you would be affording thousands of Hawaiians, a shot at life, a shot at sustainability and an opportunity to grow and become contributing citizens to the state."

"And so I thank you for agendizing this, for making this a priority, and for fulfilling the promise that was made to Native Hawaiians long ago," Lewis said.

DHHL has suggested different options to legislators for use of the proposed $600 million, including down-payment assistance, lot development, and infrastructure construction.

The agency also provided lawmakers with a list of 18 shovel-ready projects that, if funded, would create nearly 3,000 new homestead lots from Honomū to Hanapēpē.

The 1921 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act created a framework to right the wrongs of displacing Native Hawaiians from their ancestral lands by setting aside land solely for Hawaiians.

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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