DHHL Responds to SCHHA Claims on Lease Cancellations
News Release from DHHL, December 30, 2019
(KAPOLEI, HI) – The Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations (SCHHA), formerly known as the Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly, has recently asserted several false claims about the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands’ (DHHL) lease cancellation process. The Department wishes to clarify several of the assumptions.
“Lessees should not be afraid to open their mail, contact their lender, or call the Department,” said Tyler Gomes, Deputy to the Chair of the Hawaiian Homes Commission (HHC). “We understand that there are sometimes unavoidable life events that occur, and we have trained staff as well as contracted financial counselors to help.”
Loan Servicing Guidelines
DHHL has written loan servicing guidelines that have been provided to SCHHA on more than one occasion, despite SCHHA claims that DHHL does not have guidelines in place.
The Department’s staff work one-on-one with lessees who are experiencing challenges in paying their mortgages. These challenges may include, but are not limited to, job loss, a medical emergency, or a family crisis. In addition, loan officers with DHHL provide payment options and financial counseling paid for by the Department. To ensure the availability of adequate assistance, lessees are contacted by postal mail, phone, e-mail, and through in-person visits, if necessary.
“After listening to concerns raised by SCHHA, regarding the sufficiency of the Department’s loan practices, DHHL conducted a thorough internal review with loan staff,” said Gomes. “Based on the loans that saw successful restructuring and mitigation over the last five years, it became clear that, in practice, DHHL’s Loan Program offers borrowers more flexibility and creativity in its mitigation efforts than the current version of the Loan Manual and far more than the fee simple market. As a result, DHHL will be reviewing and updating its Loan Manual to more accurately reflect the hard work and ingenuity that the highly-qualified loan division has been offering beneficiaries.”
Department Involvement in Private Lending
SCHHA has requested the Department intercede on behalf of lessees who have borrowed from private lenders under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 184a or FHA 247 insured loans. However, the lenders are compelled to follow HUD guidelines and DHHL must allow for the lenders to practice full jurisdiction over their loans. The HUD guidelines may be found starting on Page 609 of the FHA Single Family Housing Policy Handbook.
The assertion by SCHHA that DHHL has evicted hundreds of families is false.
The Hawaiian Homes Commission has asked 33 lessees to leave their homesteads over the last five years which is .007 percent of the total number of mortgages on the home lands. A 2013 audit report also criticized the Commission for failure to “collect delinquencies or cancel accompanying leases,” stating that it runs counter to the trustee duty of impartiality by elevating an individual delinquent lessee’s interest above other beneficiaries.
DHHL Lease Cancellation Process
If DHHL staff does not find success with curing a lessee’s inability to pay a mortgage, for a myriad of reasons, the case is then referred to HHC, who has an extensive lease cancellation process. The process includes multiple and ongoing hearings with the Commission on the lessee’s island to prevent travel costs, loan modification options, and additional financial counseling. A lease may only be cancelled by a quorum of five commissioners and a majority vote. Once a lease is cancelled, a lessee can then take the Department to court for reconsideration.
“At the end of the day, the Department and the Commission are striving to fulfill Prince Kūhiō’s vision of putting native Hawaiians on the land,” said William J. Aila, Jr., HHC Chair. “Keeping beneficiaries on the land is equally as important. We go to great lengths to afford lessees more flexibility and opportunities than borrowers in the fee simple market.”
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ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT OF HAWAIIAN HOME LANDS:
The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands carries out Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole’s vision of rehabilitating native Hawaiians by returning them to the land. Established by U.S. Congress in 1921, with the passage of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, the Hawaiian homesteading program run by DHHL includes management of over 200,000 acres of land statewide with the specific purpose of developing and delivering homesteading.