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Hundreds of Hawaiians may qualify of home-repair  loan program here 

By LESTER CHANG - TGI Staff Writer
Posted: Thursday, Oct 02, 2003 - 04:46:10 am HST

State Department of Hawaiian Home Lands officials have created a low-interest, home-repair loan program for economically disadvantaged people who live on lands managed by the agency.

Hundreds of DHHL beneficiaries on Kaua‘i, if they qualify, would stand to gain from the program.

The program will have a major impact on DHHL beneficiaries and their families who need assistance the most in maintaining their homes, Hawaiian Homes Commission Chairman Micah Kane said in a news release.

The program is supported by federal dollars that are part of DHHL's recent grant from the Native Hawaiian Housing Assistance Self Determination Act program.

Related to that program, residents on Kaua‘i and throughout the state could find it easier to become first-time homebuyers through a measure approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.

In a news release, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez praised the House of Representatives for approving President Bush's request for funds for the "American Dream Down payment Initiative."

Bush's request for $400 million for fiscal year 2004 and 2005 could assist 80,000 low-income families nationwide to become homeowners, according to a news release from HUD.

Through the project, Bush hopes to increase minority homeownership by 5.5 million families by the end of the decade, the release said.

The initiative is aimed at helping first-time buyers with high downpayments and closing costs, the most significant barriers to homeownership for such buyers, the release said.

Bush's initiative, if approved by Congress, will provide an average downpayment assistance grant of $5,000 to low-income families, the release said.

Congress has already appropriated $75 million for the initiative for fiscal year 2003, and Bush asked for the additional funding to help American families struggling to buy their first homes, the HUD release said.

Michael Flores, acting field director of the HUD office in
Honolulu, said it is not known how much of the $400 million could come to Kaua‘i or Hawai‘i because Congress hasn't taken action on Bush's funding request.

"I wish I could say. I don't think it is at the point that the $400 million has been divided among the different communities and among the states,"
Flores said.

He estimated about 30 families in Hawai‘i could be helped with some funds from the $75 million allotment.

"If the $400 million goes through, if that guess (of 30 Hawai‘i families who could have been helped with the 2003 allotment) is accurate, we could expect to help more,"
Flores said.

The Bush program is administered under HUD's Home Investment Partnerships Program.

To be eligible for the DHHL program for home repairs, household incomes of DHHL beneficiaries need to be at 80 percent or below a county median income level, Kane said in a news release. For Kaua‘i County, the median income is about $50,000.

Interest rates for the loans will be set at 0 percent to 3 percent. The loans will spread out over a number of years, depending on the amount that is borrowed and the income of the borrowers, Kane said.

Kupuna, or the elderly, will get a break if they qualify for the program. Loans made to kupuna who are 62 years of age and older and whose adjusted household income is at or below 50 percent of the adjusted gross income will have payments deferred.

If the kupuna remains in the home for the life of the loan, the loan could be forgiven, he explained.

The loan program will complement existing county home-repair programs on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu and the
Big Island. No such program exists on Maui.

In the last six months, DHHL staff worked with county officials to coordinate and implement the DHHL home-repair program, Kane said.

DHHL officials are negotiating an application and processing fee structure with each county, to be paid by DHHL, Kane said.

Following the negotiations, contracts, or "sub-recipient" agreements, need to be signed with Kaua‘i, City and County of Honolulu and Big Island counties before homesteaders can participate in the home-repair loan program, Kane said.

For
Maui County, DHHL officials will be tailoring a program with nonprofit organizations, Kane said.

"This is a good example of how state and county government can work together for a common cause without duplicating the service," Kane said.

Kane said the mayors from each of the counties have been very supportive in allowing DHHL staffers to develop the program around existing county home-repair programs.

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