My Turn: Counties united against injustice

In a unanimous vote, the Honolulu City Council on Sept. 4 joined the Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii county councils in approving resolutions to hold Bank of America accountable for its unfulfilled commitment to Hawaiian Homelands beneficiaries. As a council member for Hawaii County, I am inspired and encouraged by the opportunity for all four counties to work together to resolve this quarter century of injustice.

In 1994, as a condition of its acquisition of Liberty Bank, the Federal Reserve ordered Bank of America to provide $150 million in loans on Hawaiian Homelands. This order was the result of assertions by the Hawaii Fair Lending Coalition that BofA had been discriminating against Hawaiians and Filipinos in a lending practice known as “redlining.”

ADVERTISING


To date, BofA has only provided $13 million of the loan amount ordered by the Federal Reserve. According to an article in the Sept. 2 edition of the Honolulu Star Advertiser, “Bank of America officials, while conceding that they only made a fraction of the loans, say they did fulfill their commitment, just not as originally conceived.” In response, Sen. Brian Schatz said, “Their explanation of what happened is really just a series of justifications for noncompliance.”

As a Hawaiian Homes beneficiary, I know and have had personal experience with the challenges that beneficiaries must endure to get mortgages on Hawaiian Homelands. I also know first-hand how those loans could have helped Hawaiian families move onto their lands. Had Bank of America obeyed the law as ordered by the Federal Reserve, approximately 1,400 families would have been in their homes for the last 20 years, building up equity, and living with a sense of security, instead of facing the harsh realities of skyrocketing rent and affordable homes out of reach.

Many affected by BoA’s non-compliance are my constituents. I am saddened to learn that the Star-Advertiser quotes the State Deputy Attorney General’s claim that “there are no legal bases for the state to pursue BofA on its past pronouncements regarding loans to native Hawaiians.”

I have been following the efforts to hold Bank of America accountable. In 2007, the Deputy Director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands wrote a letter to BofA stating that the bank had fulfilled the loan commitment. However, in 2012, then-Commission Chair Alapaki Nahele-a stated that “the [2007] deputy director ‘signing off’ on the commitment was done without approval of the Hawaiian Homes Commission.” This was the opportunity to resolve the matter. Instead beneficiaries received the status quo of bureaucratic indifferences.

It is disappointing that the state attorney general is not willing to review all available evidence and consider every legal strategy to ensure that Bank of America is held to the rule of law on behalf of Native Hawaiians. And while I hope that state leaders request further explanations from the attorney general, we do not need to wait for others to stand up.

Now that all four counties are unified, council members from all islands have the opportunity to move forward together to secure justice on this matter.

ADVERTISING


On Sept. 17, the Maui County Council’s Governance, Ethics, and Transparency Committee will consider a resolution to hire a special counsel to review legal strategies for compelling Bank of America to be held accountable to the rule of law. Meanwhile, Sen. Schatz is looking into the matter. As leaders of our communities, we can ensure that lending laws are applied equally and in doing so, provide much-needed homes and the essential empowerment of living in security for our people.

Sue Lee Loy is a Hawaii County Council member in Hilo.