by Elizabeth Blish Hughes
Homeownership is a dream delayed for many Native Hawaiians, whose
incomes lag far behind other state residents. Yet in the past few
years, Kehaulani Filimoe’atu, above left, and Blossom Feiteira,
longtime rights activists, have begun to change this, especially
on their native Maui, where many Hawaiians are homeless or living
in overcrowded conditions.
The U.S. Congress recognized housing as a critical issue for native
islanders when it set aside 200,000 acres as “home lands”
in 1920. Yet thousands of Native Hawaiians have been frustrated
by bureaucratic procedures that have kept them from accessing this
communal land. Many have languished on a decades-long waiting list
of some 20,000 names. What’s worse, when offered land, most
can’t obtain financing to build a home.
In 2000, after discussing this problem with community elders, Filimoe’atu
and Feiteira founded Hawaiian Community Assets, which prequalifies
people for loans through an outreach program. Feiteira teaches mortgage
and money management classes for people whose culture had little
notion of individual land ownership or financial knowledge. “A
house helps families stabilize,” she says.
But even when people qualified for financing on paper, lenders
shied away from the home lands: without owned land as collateral,
few saw profit in the loans. In response, Filimoe’atu and
Feiteira formed Hawaii Community Lending, the state’s first
nonprofit mortgage broker. Now they match clients with commercial
and government lending programs.
Filimoe’atu and Feiteira’s persistence has paid off.
When they started, only 225 families had homesteaded in the previous
80 years. Since 2002, thanks to their efforts, nearly twice the
number of families have gained homes in Maui. Now 431 homesteading
families either occupy or have started to build homes. In recognition
of their leadership, Filimoe’atu and Feiteira shared a 2003
Ford Foundation Leadership for a Changing World award.
At their urging, the state’s Department of Hawaiian Home
Lands has sped up the building of roads and sewers as well as the
rate at which officials distribute homesteads. Filimoe’atu
and Feiteira have also built bridges to communities that had objected
to nearby homesteads because it meant “too many Hawaiians”
in the neighborhood. They have developed a reputation for leading
Moreover, Filimoe’atu and Feiteira have managed to make significant
headway by approaching a seemingly intractable problem from a number
of directions. Their next step is to establish a Hawaiian-owned
bank that would not only offer mortgages but also finance small