HONOLULU (AP) - The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is lowering its mortgage interest rates for the first time in 17 years and taking other steps to try to ease delinquent loans.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that the agency is making several moves after an audit this year said the number of delinquent loans was increasing and the agency wasn't adequately addressing the problem.
The department briefed state legislators on its plans last week. Director Jobie Masagatini said the delinquency problem that goes back several decades is tough to solve.
Masagatini said rates were lowered in August on direct loans to 4.5 percent, down from 6 percent. She said the rates had not been lowered since 1996.
The department plans a pilot program for the most badly overdue loans on the Big Island. It also plans a new tracking system for loans that are six months overdue.
Masagatini said the department has to balance between helping homeowners and sending a message that they have to pay.
The department provides leases to people who are at least 50 percent Native Hawaiian. It oversees a 203,000-acre trust and has awarded more than 9,000 leases. More than 26,000 potential beneficiaries are on a waiting list.
Lawmakers at last week's meeting discussed the upcoming end of $30 million annual payments from the state that the department has received for 19 years. The last payment is set for the next fiscal year.
Democratic state Sen. David Ige, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said the department was supposed to invest some of that money in properties and programs that would generate revenue, to help the department become more self-sustaining.
But department officials told lawmakers that they have seen minimal revenue growth in the past decade.
"It's disappointing," Ige said.