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Housing Needs of Native Hawaiians

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Housing Needs of Native Hawaiians

Housing Needs of Native Hawaiians: A Report From the Assessment of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Housing Needs

HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research recently released Housing Needs of Native Hawaiians, a study that compares the housing conditions of Native Hawaiians to those of other residents of Hawaii and examines specific subgroups of Native Hawaiians in the context of federal policy. The report finds that Hawaii has a great need for affordable housing, especially among Native Hawaiian households waiting for a residential lease on the Hawaiian home lands.

Although Native Hawaiians, unlike American Indians, do not have a sovereign government to represent them, the United States has long recognized a special relationship with Native Hawaiians as the aboriginal inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands. In 1920, 39 years before statehood for Hawaii, the federal Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA) set aside approximately 200,000 acres for the use of Native Hawaiians who are descendants “of not less than one-half part of the blood of the races inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands previous to 1778.” The act established “a permanent land base for the benefit and use of native Hawaiians.” One of its goals was to enable “the preservation of the values, traditions, and culture of native Hawaiians.”1 HHCA created the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) to administer the home lands. Individuals who meet HHCA’s definition of a Native Hawaiian may assume a residential lease on the home lands if they can buy or build a home on the leased lot. In 2016, according to DHHL, approximately 8,000 households resided on the Hawaiian home lands, but nearly three times as many (22,000) were on the waiting list for a residential lease.

The Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 was amended in 2000 to include Native Hawaiians, creating the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant (NHHBG) to assist low-income Native Hawaiian households. The act defines “low income” as a household income of up to 80 percent of the area median income. DHHL is the sole recipient of NHHBG, and it uses NHHBG funds to assist low-income households with homeownership in the home lands. Based on the survey of waiting list households conducted for this study, the report estimates that approximately half of the households who are on the DHHL waiting list for a residential lease and are currently residing in Hawaii are low-income households.

Housing Needs of Native Hawaiians was written as part of HUD’s national Assessment of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Housing Needs. The report draws on data from the decennial census, the American Community Survey, interviews with stakeholders in Hawaii, and a survey of households on the DHHL waiting list that was designed and conducted for this study. Waiting list households were eligible for the survey if they lived in Hawaii, had a valid address, and had already provided full documentation indicating Native Hawaiian status.

Housing Needs of Native Hawaiians documents a great need for more affordable housing in Hawaii. Between 2006 and 2010, 42 percent of all households in Hawaii were cost burdened compared with 36 percent for the nation as a whole. At the same time, households in Hawaii were three times more likely than households in the United States to experience overcrowding (9% and 3%, respectively) and severe overcrowding (3% and 1%, respectively).

Among Native Hawaiians, the report shows that the greatest need for affordable housing exists among households waiting for a residential lease on the Hawaiian home lands. The median income of waiting list households was $48,000 compared with more than $60,000 for Native Hawaiians statewide and on the home lands and for non-Native Hawaiian residents of Hawaii. Waiting list households also lived in markedly worse housing conditions.

  • High housing cost burdens affected 46 percent of waiting list households, a higher rate than among Native Hawaiian households statewide (40%) and non-Native Hawaiian residents of Hawaii (42%); residents of the Hawaiian home lands were much less likely than the other groups to be cost burdened (21%).
  • Overcrowding affected nearly 40 percent of waiting list households, a rate more than twice as high as that of Native Hawaiian households statewide (15%), five times higher than the overcrowding rate among non-Native Hawaiian households in Hawaii (8%), and twice as high as the rate on the home lands (19%).
  • Lack of complete plumbing was reported in approximately 10 percent of households on the waiting list compared with 1 percent for all other groups.

Native Hawaiians were overrepresented among Hawaii’s homeless. In 2015, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders accounted for only 10 percent of the state’s population but were 39 percent of the 7,620 people experiencing homelessness in Hawaii. Data from 2016 show that 42 percent of 7,921 homeless individuals in Hawaii identified as Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.

The study also offers insight into what types of housing Native Hawaiians need. Large households (those with five or more members) accounted for 27 percent of Native Hawaiian households statewide, nearly 40 percent of households on the DHHL waiting list, and, similarly, 40 percent of households already living on the Hawaiian home lands included 5 or more members; only 14 percent of non-Native Hawaiian households were large. In addition, Native Hawaiian households were more likely to be working and more likely to include children than were non-Native Hawaiian households in Hawaii. This finding demonstrates the need for housing that accommodates larger households and is located close to employment centers and transportation networks.

Most (95%) households waiting for a home lands lease want their own lot with a new house (60%), an existing house (13%) or no house (22%), but nearly half would accept a townhouse or multiplex unit to get housing faster. About 55 percent of waiting list households surveyed had received an offer for a lease from DHHL but had not accepted it. Reasons for rejecting the offer included the following:

  • Did not like the location (46%).
  • Thought that they would not qualify for a loan (32%).
  • Could not relocate (11%).

In addition, many renters on the DHHL waiting list indicated that they would prefer to own a home but are unable to do so because they cannot afford a downpayment. Finally, like current lessees, most waiting list households placed a high value on multigenerational and extended family (ohana) living and socializing. These households would prefer housing that supports this cultural value, including enough room to accommodate a larger household, outdoor spaces for socializing, and enough parking for extended family members.

Housing Needs of Native Hawaiians shows that DHHL’s programs effectively support affordable homeownership for Native Hawaiians. At the same time, the report highlights the urgent need for more affordable housing for Native Hawaiians not on the home lands, especially among households waiting for a lease on the home lands. Many of these households might benefit from housing assistance other than DHHL’s traditional homeownership programs, including rental housing assistance or assistance located outside of the home lands. The report also emphasizes the importance of ohana living and socializing for Native Hawaiians and Native Hawaiians’ strong preference for housing and communities that support these values. Finally, Housing Needs of Native Hawaiians includes detailed county-by-county analyses along with big-picture summaries and explanations of the policy context. This report will be a useful resource for researchers, advocates, policymakers, and others interested in Native Hawaiian housing needs.


Text of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920 accessed at, on July 17, 2017

Published Date: 24 July 2017

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.