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$600M for Hawaiian Home Lands: What we know about how this money could soon be spent

Kanehili-Kapolei-Homestead-Overview.png department of hawaiian home lands DHHL
Courtesy of DHHL
An aerial view of the Kānehili Hawaiian Homestead Community in Kapolei. DHHL's landholdings in Kapolei are prime for development, and will be the site of at least one-third of the homestead lots it currently plans to build with this infusion of $600 million from the state general fund.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands will soon receive a lump-sum appropriation of $600 million to deliver homesteading opportunities to qualified Native Hawaiians. So where will this money go? Here's what we know — and what we don’t know — about this historic infusion of funding.

DHHL has less than three years to design, build, and offer $600 million worth of homestead lots to Native Hawaiian beneficiaries. DHHL Director William Ailā Jr. says the agency already has a list of potential projects that it’s finalizing.

“I don’t believe it’ll change drastically, but I do believe that we’re going to put enough flexibility in there should opportunities come up that we can shift some of the funding to get more units quicker,” Ailā said.

The current list calls mostly for the development of residential lots on Kauaʻi, Maui, Lānaʻi, Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi Island. This includes single-family homes, multi-family rentals and vacant lots. There are also plans for agricultural lots in Honomū, Honokōwai, and Hoʻolehua.

DHHL also has the flexibility to buy land, which is especially useful on Oʻahu where it lacks the necessary land to meet beneficiary demand. In fact, Ailā already has a lot in mind.

“If we’re successful in purchasing land in Kapolei between the Hawaiian homestead community of Kaupeʻa and Kapolei High School in August we could actually see people come off the waitlist for offerings as early as 2024,” Ailā told HPR.

The ultimate goal is to reduce the DHHL waitlist, which currently includes more than 28,000 Native Hawaiians. Legislators gave the department leeway to use some of this money to provide mortgage or rental assistance, but it's unclear whether this will impact the waitlist.

DHHL has until Dec. 10 to submit a strategic plan to the state Legislature detailing its use of funds.

State Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, co-chair of the Native Hawaiian Caucus, urged the agency to spend as much of this money as possible, in the right way, before Ige leaves office.

“The majority of this will be up to the next governor and the next administration, and for everyone here, I do ask you to make this a priority,” Keohokalole said. “This needs to continue to be a priority. It’s one thing to allot the money, it’s another thing to execute on it.”

The new administration will have until June 30, 2025, to use these funds. Any money not encumbered for specific purposes by that date will return to the state general fund.

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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