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Breaking ground

Updated: 
February 4, 2014 - 9:58pm

With oo in hand, nine dignitaries, government officials and future homesteaders turned fresh dirt Tuesday signaling the start of construction of infrastructure that will eventually become the home for 117 Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries in Kona.

“Every day of my life, I worry about all of us Hawaiians getting a home so that they can leave something to their children and grandchildren,” said Dora Aio-Leamons, a homesteader and president of the Kaniohale Community Association who participated in Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony off Manalawea Street.

The $11 million in infrastructure work is slated to begin later this month on the first phase of Villages of Lai Opua Village 4 Akau, said Jeff Fujimoto, project manager for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The first phase of Village 4 is located on 33.9 acres of DHHL-owned land.

The infrastructure work, expected to take bid-winner Isemoto Contracting Co. Ltd. about a year to complete, comprises clearing, grubbing and grading; constructing roadways; installing drainage, water, and wastewater systems and other utilities; and constructing a mailbox cluster, plant preservation lot and boat parking area. Once the infrastructure work is complete, Fujimoto said, the department would move forward with homes.

The work is being funded by a $9.8 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant; $1 million in Hawaiian Home Lands Trust Funds, $268,000 in Native Hawaiian Housing Plan Capital Improvement Project funds; and $545,000 for telecommunications infrastructure financed by Sandwich Isles Communications.

More than a dozen people, including Gov. Neil Abercrombie, took part in the ground breaking at the Village 4 Akau site, which can be found mauka of Kaniohale homestead and makai of Manalawea Street.

“The building of this new village here, Village 4, this new kauhale (homestead) is about the families — it is about giving them hope for a better tomorrow and not only for tomorrow but for seven generations to come,” said Wally Lau, Hawaii County deputy managing director.

In all, Village 4 will include 117 lots for homes for beneficiaries, said Jobie Masagatani, Hawaiian Homes Commission chairwoman and Department of Hawaiian Home Lands director. The department, she said, still has 4.5 “villages” to develop at Lai Opua.

Beneficiaries who participated in the “undivided interest” program will have the ability to select from the lots first. The department awarded future Village 4 owners “undivided interest” in the subdivision in October 2005 as part of a program designed to provide lessees time to prepare for home ownership while the department developed the subdivision.

If lots remain, beneficiaries on the department’s waiting list will have the next chance at ownership, Masagatani said.

The department is also working on a request for proposal that would establish a rental program with the option for beneficiaries to purchase the home after 15 years, said Masagatani. She expects more details on the request by the end of this year, but told West Hawaii Today the department envisions about 70 of the homes being on the rental program.

The goal, she said, is to provide housing ownership opportunities for those who earn 80 percent or less of the area median income.

“This project will allow us to provide housing opportunities for families that are renting to come out to the homelands,” said Masagatani. “And, they’re not having the down payment and the credit history and eventually they will own that home in 15 years.”

Village 4 Akua would not be the first such rent-to-own subdivision that the department has pursued. Masagatani said the department currently has a similar program at homesteads in Kapolei on Oahu. She was unable to comment on the success of that rent-to-own program because it has about three years remaining until the 15-year minimum when renters can pursue ownership.

Villages at Lai Opua was first announced in 1986 as a state Housing Finance and Community Development Corporation master-planned community project that would offer market rate and affordable housing, according to West Hawaii Today archives. In 1994, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs sued the state over a dispute regarding the use of ceded lands for public assistance housing projects. Unable to reach a settlement, the state eventually transferred the acreage to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for the Lai Opua homestead in 1997. The first subdivision was completed in 1999.

“This project reminds me that when we talk about Hawaiian Homes we have to take a long vision because 30 years ago this land wasn’t even homelands. These lands came into DHHL’s inventory when the state sought to resolve the land claims of the department,” said Masagatani. “And, as a result of that, these villages came into DHHL’s inventory and gave us the opportunity to homestead in Kona.”