By Greg Barrett
The State Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations will be involved in any future decisions by the state to evict Hawaiian homesteaders, council chairman Kamaki Kanahele said yesterday.
"We want to be an instrument of participation before any eviction takes place," Kanahele said at a news conference.
Following Hilbert Kahale Smith's funeral yesterday, Kanahele and Department of Hawaiian Homes Lands director Kai Watson sat side-by-side and spoke of mending wounded relations.
"We do feel that the loss of our brother is a tragic one and we will work to have it never happened again," Kanahele said. "But it is now time to move on."
Smith, 59, died Jan. 18 when he torched his house while sheriff's deputies sent by the state were evicting him from his Anahola, Kauai, homestead. Smith had refused to make his mortgage payments because of construction defects on his house.
About 700 homestead mortgage payments are delinquent, and Watson did not rule out future evictions. But, he said, homesteaders will never have their homes yanked away.
"It's not a situation where we're evicting people left and right," Watson said. "Rather, it's a last and extremely rare resort."
Peter Kama, president of Hui Kako'o 'Aina Ho'opulapual, a support group for Native Hawaiians eligible for the Hawaiian Homes program, said responsibility for the program's success must be shared by the state and its homesteaders.
"The issue of those delinquent payments should be rectified," Kama said. "And homes should be inspected and satisfactory to the receiver."
Kanahele stressed that moving from the Hawaiian Homes waiting list onto homestead land does not end a family's suffering. Many people do not gain the land until late in life, he said, and a new mortgage can wreck a family's budget.
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