The Hawai'i Community Lending team members

The Hawai'i Community Lending team

Native CDFI Makes Affordable Housing on Homelands a Reality for Local Hawaiians

Avery Kaplan, Membership Associate, Opportunity Finance Network

OFN member Hawai’i Community Lending shares their commitment to affordable housing on Indigenous lands, disaster relief following the tragic 2023 Maui fire, and more. 

Read time: 5 minutes

In honor of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month, we’re highlighting OFN member Hawai’i Community Lending (HCL). Since 2002, HCL has been funding the affordable housing ecosystem in Hawai’i to help low- and moderate-income communities achieve and sustain economic self-sufficiency with a particular focus on Native Hawaiians.  

Jeff Gilbreath, CEO of Hawai'i Community Lending, having a conversation

We connected with CEO Jeff Gilbreath to talk about HCL’s history and vision.

Together, we explored their commitment to affordable housing on Indigenous lands, need for more capital to meet growing demand, vital role in disaster relief following the tragic Maui fire, and more. 

What is one unique aspect about HCL and the community you serve?

Hawaiʻi Community Lending was born out of the Native Hawaiian community’s struggle to qualify for mortgages and obtain residential lease awards to secure their rightful place on their homelands.  

In the late 1990s our co-founders, Blossom Feiteira and Kehaulani Filimoeatu, had been on the Hawaiian Homelands waitlist for a residential lease for 30 years. When their names were finally called, they received a letter from the State Department of Hawaiian Homelands that instructed them to bring all their financial documents to the Maui High School gym to see if they could qualify. After waiting 30 years, it took less than 30 minutes for the conventional lender to say, “No. Not enough income, not enough savings, poor credit – you don’t qualify.”  

Blossom and Kehaulani found they were not alone. Other Native Hawaiians were told the same thing. HCL was created by these Native Hawaiians who were told “no.” The journey started with HCL’s parent corporation and HUD counseling agency, Hawaiian Community Assets, that has provided tens of thousands of families with homebuyer education and pre-purchase counseling, and later HCL, which was first formed as a mortgage brokerage and later as a Native CDFI. 

The Mokulehua family of O'ahu, who became homeowners with the help of financial education and homebuyer education workshops from Hawaiian Community Assets and a loan from HCL

Photo: The Mokulehua family of O’ahu, who became homeowners with the help of financial education and homebuyer education workshops from Hawaiian Community Assets and a loan from HCL. (Courtesy: Hawai’i Community Lending) 

What is the biggest challenge for HCL in 2024?

Our biggest challenge in 2024 will be to address the impacts of the tragic Maui fire that devastated the entire Lahaina community on August 8, 2023.   

We have established a program to assist the 508 owner-occupant homeowners impacted by the fire, including the 104 Native Hawaiians in the Leialii homestead on Hawaiian Homelands. We are racing against land speculation, profiteering, and existing power structures in Hawaii to help our local and Hawaiian families prevent displacement and raise the funds to rebuild, all while these families feel the day-to-day impacts of severe trauma caused by the fire.   

A banner reading “Love 4 Lahaina” flies next to a flag representing the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. HCL established a program to help the 2023 Maui fires victims

Photo: A banner reading “Love 4 Lahaina” flies next to a flag representing the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. (Courtesy: Hawai’i Community Lending) 

In the past few years, what partnership do you feel had the biggest impact on the community you serve?

Our partnership with the counties, the state, and private philanthropy to address the immediate needs of our local and Hawaiian people during the COVID pandemic was critical. Prior to the pandemic, Hawaiʻi Community Lending and our work as a Native CDFI was largely unrecognized and misunderstood. When we stepped in to serve as an intermediary to administer over $40 million in COVID relief grants and loans to keep over 4,000 families housed across the state, recognition and understanding came.

This led to increased public and private investments in our CDFI, growing our loan fund to $16 million, including $9 million to fund the construction of homes on Hawaiian Homelands for over 800 Native Hawaiians who have been unable to build because of a lack of affordable construction financing.

What is a challenge facing the CDFI industry right now, and how can the industry rise to meet that challenge? 

Today’s market is a result of an increase in community members coming to CDFIs for loans and development services. The CDFI industry is challenged with attracting the investments and funding needed to meet this growing demand, while mainstream financial institutions see their assets increasing.   

As an industry, we need to ensure every market has mainstream financial institutions that are active investors that step in to provide the long-term, low-cost capital we need not only to meet this demand now, but also to ensure our borrowers can “graduate” to their institutions in the future.  

OFN has a unique opportunity to make this case by identifying the best practices in bank investments in CDFIs of all sizes and assisting with getting more mainstream financial institutions to commit to these best practices, so that their capital is strategically placed with CDFIs as part of their long-term investment strategies. This will go hand-in-hand with meeting the new CRA requirements, which call out CDFIs as a key vehicle for bank investments. 

Stay up to date with Hawai’i Community Lending on their Facebook and Instagram

To learn how other CDFIs are attracting investment and addressing their capitalization needs, watch OFN’s 2024 CONNECT+ Forum on CDFI capitalization. 

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