Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement's 10th Annual Convention

Hawaii Convention Center, 1801 Kalākaua Ave., Honolulu, HI
Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thank you, Robin, for that kind introduction and all that you do for Native Hawaiian families. To all of you gathered here today -- aloha! 

It's a pleasure to be here at the 10th Annual Native Hawaiian Convention.

And I'd like to thank the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for bringing us together here today, as well as Governor Abercrombie for his leadership and Kiran Ahuja for chairing the White House Asian American and Pacific Islander initiative that is doing such good work for Native Hawaiian families.

I'm proud to be the first HUD Secretary to speak to this convention -- and to do so on behalf of President Obama, the first President to call Hawaii home.

No president in our history better understands the issues facing this community -- or has been more committed to solving them.

And it's a commitment I'm proud to share. Indeed, my brother and his family used to live in Hawaii -- and I've long been impressed by the remarkable beauty and diversity of this state.

That's why I'm proud to work for an Administration that has made such unprecedented progress in strengthening Native communities of all kinds.

Whether it's our Recovery Act investments in Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities…

Our determination to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship in Indian Country…

Or the bills President Obama has signed to expand access to affordable housing for Native American veterans and protect Native American women from sexual assault and violence…

Our record of serving every Native community is one we're extraordinarily proud of. 

But today, I want to discuss with you this Administration's commitment to the Native Hawaiian community in particular -- both the steps we've taken these last two-and-a-half years, and the work we have ahead of us to create opportunity so that every Native Hawaiian family can be a part of winning the future.

The Unique Needs of the Native Hawaiian Community

As our nation's Housing Secretary, I know that this has been a difficult time for many families in America, as we continue to rebound from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

And while the six percent state unemployment rate is lower than the national average, there's no doubt that Hawaii's families have felt the pain of the crisis, with falling personal incomes and some of the highest housing costs in the country. 

But long before the recession, the Native Hawaiian community was facing its own set of challenges.

From the 11 percent of this population that lives in poverty, to the 35 percent who have only a high school degree, to the fact that Native Hawaiians are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with conditions like diabetes, it's clear that these challenges are as serious as they are longstanding. 

And just as importantly, you've lacked the committed federal partner to help solve them.

And as everyone here knows, one of the biggest challenges has been access to quality, affordable housing.

For Native Hawaiian families, part of the solution is an opportunity to live on Hawaiian home lands where homes often cost half of what they would elsewhere. 

But with the ability of Native Hawaiian families to transfer their homeownership rights to a relative with at least 25 percent Hawaiian ancestry, living on the home lands is about far more than economics. It's about preserving centuries of culture, traditions and heritage.

Unfortunately, with a waiting list of thousands that has left some families spending decades trying to move onto the home lands, it's not an opportunity that is available for a lot of Native Hawaiians, leaving too many grappling with the high cost of housing.   

It's a problem only made worse by a lack of affordable housing across the state -- indeed, the average cost of buying a home on the island of Oahu is an eye-popping $600,000.

That's why the tools HUD provides are so important -- and none more so than the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant program.

With these grants, HUD not only helps build homes and infrastructure on native Hawaiian home lands -- we help prepare families for sustainable homeownership with tools like housing counseling and downpayment assistance.

Indeed, later today, I'll have the privilege of joining the Amano family as they receive the keys to their first home -- a home they bought with help from a NHHBG grant that paid for a portion of their downpayment. 

And I'm pleased to be announcing today almost $13 million in new NHHBG funding for the next year.

Since the program began nearly a decade ago, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has built, acquired, and rehabbed more than 380 homes and provided services such as homebuyer education, housing counseling, and self-help home repair training to more than 600 low-income native Hawaiian families.

On top of that, this Administration has invested more than $10 million in the NHHBG program through President Obama's Recovery Act. Combined with the nearly $25 million we provided through annual funding over the last two years, that's a commitment that no Administration has ever equaled -- and I'm proud to say that Native Hawaiian families are already starting to see the results.

Just ask the 19 families who moved into the Kaupuni Village this past April. Not only is Kaupuni Village the first affordable housing development to be certified platinum by the LEED green building rating system, but it is located in a neighborhood designed according to Native Hawaiian principles.

Thanks in part to $6 million in Recovery Act funding, families are reducing their energy bills through photovoltaic panels, solar water heaters, energy-efficient lighting, and other green technologies. 

And with a community center that will teach Hawaiian culture, history, language, and arts, Kaupuni Village will foster precisely the sense of community that the home lands are meant to sustain.

Of course, building sustainable native communities is about more than just solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels -- it's also about job growth and reducing costs for families.

And with Hawaii trailing only Manhattan and Brooklyn as the most expensive housing market in the country, what affordable housing there is, is often located far from job centers, leaving families vulnerable to long commute times and high gas prices.

Not only are Hawaii's gas prices 40 cents higher than the national average, but in Honolulu alone, thanks to traffic congestion it can take up to 47 percent longer than most cities to get to and from work during rush hour. 

But the Obama Administration isn't leaving families to fend for themselves. Last fall, HUD joined our partners in the Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency in awarding nearly $170 million in planning grants to ensure regions and communities across the country have more housing and transportation choices, more energy independence, and will be more economically competitive. 

And few awards demonstrate the promise of this initiative like Honolulu's $2.4 million Community Challenge grant.  

As you all know, the city has just recently broken ground on a new high-capacity rail corridor that will connect the western side of the island to downtown Honolulu. And with their grant, local partners will focus on building affordable housing near the new transit line, resulting in both lower housing costs and dramatically reduced commute times for families on Oahu. 

These grants encouraged localities and regions to partner with the “Third Sector” of nonprofits and foundations that today's event honors -- and with partners that include the Urban Land Institute, the Trust for Public Land, and the Hawaii Housing Alliance, Honolulu did just that. 

And through a grant process that rewarded applicants who demonstrated a commitment to working with low-income communities and communities of color in crafting their sustainability plans, we worked to ensure communities like yours could not only be heard -- but were at the table.

Supporting Native Hawaiian Families in HUD's Budget

Of course, if this crisis taught us anything, it's that a lot of families were struggling long before it began.

Indeed, one recent HUD study showed that the number of households nationally who paid more than half their monthly income for rent, lived in severely substandard housing, or both grew by nearly 20 percent between 2007 and 2009 -- the largest increase in the history of the survey.

Today, fully nine out of ten Native Hawaiians who live off the home lands face serious housing needs. And for low income and very low income families, worst case housing needs are two to three times worse -- with problems ranging from affordability to overcrowding to the quality and safety of the housing itself.

For the Obama Administration, it's simple: these families were hit particularly hard by this crisis. They need to be protected.

And with 80 percent of the funding in HUD's proposed budget to be used for renewing homeless and rental assistance, and providing capital needs funding for HUD's public housing stock -- they will be protected.

But ensuring these families are protected won't be possible unless we put the Federal government back in the business of affordable housing. 

And nowhere is that more important than the Aloha State. 

According to a recent study commissioned by HUD, Hawaii's public housing requires as much as a quarter billion dollars in capital repairs -- from roofs that need to be replaced, to aging and unreliable boilers.

But putting the Federal government back in the affordable housing business isn't just about spending more money. 

With the Hawaii Public Housing Authority receiving about $12.5 million in congressional funding to address capital needs, it would take nearly two decades to get enough funding just to make the repairs it needs to make right now.

That's why HUD has proposed a Rental Assistance Demonstration in our FY 2012 budget that would leverage private dollars to preserve up to 209,000 publicly-owned homes nationwide -- and nearly a quarter-million affordable homes in all. 

We estimate that if all of Hawaii's public housing used this model, Hawaii could raise the $240 million the housing authority needs to rehabilitate and preserve this precious resource.

And by allowing housing authorities to attract private investment while keeping the properties in the public's control, residents will have the opportunity to live in homes that are connected to the communities around them.

Indeed, we've already seen this approach work right here in Honolulu. Once a crumbling public housing development, the Palolo Homes was rehabilitated by using private capital and other sources of funding. Not only that, it was able to build a learning center that offers job training, counseling, and child care services to more than 300 families.

Our proposal is based on a simple idea:

That we can't build strong, inclusive communities of opportunity unless all the partners we need are at the table.

Preventing and Ending Homelessness

Our budget also makes a strong commitment to serving our most vulnerable population: our homeless men and women.

Under an innovative partnership between HUD and the Department of Veterans' Affairs called HUD-VASH, HUD is fighting veterans' homelessness with targeted housing vouchers, while the VA, led by Hawaii native, Secretary Eric Shinseki, offers case management and clinical services like health care to give homeless veterans the care they need.

Championed by two extraordinary leaders, veterans, and longtime champions of Hawaiian families in Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, HUD-VASH is built on the solid body of evidence that permanent supportive housing both ends homelessness and saves money for the taxpayer by putting an end to the revolving door of emergency rooms, shelters and jail.

Indeed, we know that investing in homeless prevention isn't just the right thing to do -- it's smart government.

We've already seen that with the Recovery Act. To date, with the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing program and the remarkable work of state and local partners across the country, we've helped save nearly 1 million people from homelessness -- including more than 5,100 in Hawaii alone.

Armed with those kinds of results, our proposed budget would increase funding for homeless programs by more than 29 percent over 2010 -- and keeps the President's historic commitment to Opening Doors, the first federal strategic plan to end homelessness.

Unveiled last June, this plan commits the Federal government to ending chronic and veteran homelessness by 2015 and ending homelessness among families and children by 2020.

As you know better than anyone, this support is critical for the Native Hawaiian community, which is dramatically overrepresented in Hawaii's homeless population. Not only does Hawaii have the third highest homelessness rate of any state in the country, but nearly one-third of all homeless people in the state are Native Hawaiians.

That is a tragedy -- and it's one we're determined not just to take on, but to solve.

And with your partnership, we will solve it. Indeed, in Hawaii we've already seen an unprecedented level of cooperation and commitment with the goals of Opening Doors. Thanks to Governor Abercrombie's extraordinary leadership, the state has led the way in drafting a plan that is aligned with Opening Doors, along with an executive order creating a State Interagency Council on Homelessness that is a model for states across the country.

With outstanding partners like Governor Abercrombie, and the resources the Obama Administration has committed, we will fulfill our charge to end homelessness -- despite tough budgets ahead of us.  

Conclusion -- Listening to Native Hawaiian Voices

The goal of all this work is to support communities like yours -- both on and off the home lands, with sustainable housing, communities and economies.

And that's also the goal of the White House AAPI initiative, as 23 agencies work hand in hand to strengthen the larger AAPI community. 

In the past 30 months, we have engaged AAPI communities like never before in our agency's history -- from conducting listening sessions around the country with Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity John Trasvina, to holding community meetings in Washington with Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development Mercedes Marquez, to Deputy Secretary Sims leading HUD's efforts to improve services for AAPIs. 

Some of you may know Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement Francey Youngberg, who is now representing HUD in the AAPI initiative. 

Of course, to really change the relationship between communities like this one and the Federal government, government itself has to change -- so that the agencies working to partner with your communities look more like the people in those communities.

And we are. Indeed, HUD recently hosted a panel discussion on HUD's internship and fellowship programs as part of its outreach to Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions and AAPI organizations.

Only by listening to Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians can we make sure our work will lift up their communities. And only then can HUD be the champion for diversity in the workplace and catalyst for change in our communities it needs to be.

In all of these efforts, we have heard you -- but I know we still have a long way to go.

Whether it's helping every Native Hawaiian family recover from the economic crisis or building the strong, inclusive, sustainable communities they need to be a part of winning the future, we're committed to listening, to learning -- and to responding.

After all, if President Obama's story has taught us anything, it's that the families of this great state are very much part of the larger American family -- and that while every family faces a unique set of challenges and opportunities, the one thing we all need is a partner.

Being that partner what the Obama Administration is committed to being to our Native Hawaiian community -- and what I'm committed to being to you.

So, thank you. Mahalo to you all -- and I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.


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