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Affordable housing takes action by all of us

VIEWPOINT

Twenty years ago, Maui residents Blossom Feiteira and Kehaulani Filimoeatu experienced firsthand what it was to be shut out from affordable housing.

After 30 years on the Hawaiian Home Lands waitlist, they had gotten their names

called in the late ’90s for a residential lease award. It took 30 years to wait and less than 30 minutes for a mortgage lender to tell them — not enough income, poor credit, no savings. You do not qualify.

Feiteira and Filimoeatu could have easily given in to hopelessness and given up. Instead, they turned this moment of despair into opportunity.

They created Hawaiian Community Assets, a nonprofit housing counseling agency focused on preparing local families for homeownership. They formed partnerships to bring federal resources to the state for investment of public dollars into infrastructure, coordinated with developers to build homes families could afford, and worked with banks to qualify community members for mortgages.

Feiteira and Filimoeatu made it clear everyone had the responsibility to remove barriers to affordable housing — from the homebuyer and Hawaiian Community Assets to the public agencies to the builders and the banks.

To this end, they gathered in talk story. Everyone could come together to share their concerns about affordability and the impact of development on the land, cultural resources, water, sewer and roads. Every person involved deepened their understanding of one another’s perspective. Together, they all focused on making affordable housing a reality for local families. They rolled up their sleeves to find common agreement to the hardest issues facing them and moved forward on shared solutions.

Over the next 20 years, Hawaiian Community Assets would use this approach of bringing together stakeholders from all corners of the affordable housing process to take action together.

The organization has worked with realtors, mortgage lenders and the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to get nearly 1,500 of the approximately 9,000 Native Hawaiian beneficiaries currently living on Hawaiian home lands into an affordable home. When the Great Recession hit, partnerships were formalized with banks and government agencies to stop unnecessary foreclosures and save an estimated $50 million in home equity for hundreds of local families. And when we saw the fallout from that same recession drive up the number of our people falling victim to houselessness, Hawaiian Community Assets coordinated alongside homeless service providers and property managers to create a pipeline of financially qualified tenants who could move into available rentals quickly.

Hawaiian Community Assets has been recognized nationally by Brandeis University for mobilizing individuals, families and communities in this way. Coined “empowerment economics,” this approach is seen as a best practice to achieve and sustain economic self-sufficiency with a particular focus on native communities and communities of color — those hit hardest by economic downturns and too often forgotten in affordable housing policy.

Now, at a time when our communities are deeply divided on how we deliver affordable housing to our people, all of us are called on to once again marshal the relationships and resources to house our local families. The COVID-19 global pandemic has made this even more apparent and more pressing as thousands of our family members, friends and neighbors have lost their jobs, seen their work hours reduced or wait in fear of pending furloughs.

The Maui County Council has given us this opportunity once again to come together to take action on affordable housing.

On Nov. 9, the Office of Council Services contracted Hawaiian Community Assets to engage the community on recommendations to improve the county’s housing policies and inform development opportunities for the building of 5,000 homes affordable for our local families.

For the next 180 days, Hawaiian Community Assets is taking feedback from Maui County residents to inform recommendations on a comprehensive affordable housing plan that the council will review in March and approve by the end of June. We need the voices of teachers and kupuna on fixed income, grocery store workers, nurses, firefighters, police officers, nonprofit workers and workers in the public sector all to step up and share their solutions for affordable housing.

It will be the leadership of everyday folks that will allow leadership at the County Council to adopt a comprehensive plan that puts forward sound solutions to our affordable housing crisis.

Go now to www.MauiHousingPlan.org and register to participate in a meeting in your community. If you cannot attend, view at www.akaku.org/channel-53/.

Share solutions for affordable housing by completing the Maui Housing Plan Survey.

Take action by getting you and your family qualified for upcoming rentals and affordable homes for purchase through the Maui Financial Opportunity Center.

Stay informed so you can stay up-to-date on the community’s progress in putting forward recommendations to the County Council for the comprehensive affordable housing plan.

Affordable housing takes action by all of us. Come — share solutions to house our people.

* Jeff Gilbreath is executive director of Hawaiian Community Assets and has over 20 years of experience in community development with a focus on affordable housing.

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