Council resolution seeks Bank of America cooperation on DHHL loans

  • The exterior of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands offices located at 91-5420 Kapolei Parkway. (Cindy Ellen Russell /Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

HILO — A decades-old dispute over $150 million in home loans for Native Hawaiians has captured the attention of two Hawaii County councilwomen, who have sponsored a nonbinding resolution supporting Gov. David Ige’s attempts to bring Bank of America back to the bargaining table.

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz and Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy are co-sponsoring Resolution 209, scheduled to be discussed at the July 9 County Council meeting.

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“While the resolution is a symbolic gesture, we wanted Hawaii County to stand with our fellow counties and the state in pressuring Bank of America to resolve its outstanding mortgage loan commitment to Hawaii, which stems from systemic discrimination against Native Hawaiian and Filipino borrowers,” Kierkiewicz said Monday. “With more than half of Hawaii County residential and related real property taxes paid for by out-of-state and foreign parties, these funds would have been key to helping many local families realize home ownership.”

“Bank of America needs to step up and make good on its obligation,” she added.

Lee Loy agreed.

“I was really shocked to learn that an opportunity for settlement of $150 million has been left on the table,” she said. “In my district, I represent two homestead communities. For me, this is right in line with working hard for the constituency that I serve.”

The bank was accused in 1994 of discriminatory lending practices in the form of redlining, the practice of denying services to residents of certain areas based on the racial or ethnic composition of those areas, by not providing mortgages on Hawaiian homelands.

The dispute began after Kahului-based Na Po E Kokua Inc. formed the Hawaiian Fair Lending Coalition and conducted research that led to the Federal Reserve System and Office of Thrift Supervision ordering the bank to make $150 million in Federal Housing Administration mortgages available on Hawaiian Home Lands by 1998.

The bank originated $13.1 million in loans on Hawaiian Home Lands from 1994 to 2012, and has made no FHA-247 loans since then, according to account information provided by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Aug. 20, 2018, the resolution says.

Gov. David Ige has sent letters to bank officials asking them to a meeting with government officials and Na Po E Kokua Inc. to sort things out.

“We continue to work with the agencies on this issue,” Ige said Monday through a spokeswoman.

The bank, however, maintains that DHHL let it off the hook years ago.

“Please know that in 2007, we received confirmation from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands that we delivered $150 million in community development activity in Hawaii,” Andrew Plepler, Bank of America’s global environmental, global and governance executive, said in an Oct. 18 letter to Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Carmen Hulu Lindsey. “However, as result of several recent inquiries on this topic, and out of respect for those who have questioned this activity, we have recently spent considerable time reviewing once again the history and records related to our community development lending and investments.”

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which oversees 203,337 acres statewide, is responsible for helping Native Hawaiian homesteaders obtain lots and loans as well as multifamily and single family rentals.

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As of June 30, 2016, the most recent data available from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, there were 14,770 Hawaii County applicants on the wait list for Hawaiian homes, the most of any island.

The Hawaii County resolution follows a similar state Senate resolution sponsored by Sen. Kai Kahele, a Hilo Democrat, that passed in the 2019 legislative session. The Maui County Council passed a similar resolution last year.

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