KAPOLEI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Even though the wait list for a Hawaiian homestead tops 20,000, the federal government has placed a hold on housing grants to the Department of Hawaiian Homes Lands.
That's because the state agency is sitting on a stockpile of $55 million in federal housing grants that it hasn't been able to spend.
"If we don't draw down quick enough. We may lose the funding," said state Sen. Brickwood Galuteria.
"Unfortunately, we have eyes on the DHHL and some of the other agencies about the draw down of federally funded monies."
Hawaii News Now has learned that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development made no appropriations to DHHL for the current fiscal year due to the surplus.
Some worry that the federal government could take back some of the money, especially after President Obama leaves office.
"The conservatives do not look at this slow draw down lightly," said Galuteria, who met with U.S. Brian Schatz in Washington, D.C. recently over the issue.
Homesteader like Henry Tripp of Kapolei say it would be a shame to lose any of this money since many Hawaiians have waited decades if not longer to get a lease.
"A lot of people in the past have died waiting on the list," he said.
"We have a lot of people on the Hawaiian Homes waiting list pounding on the doors to get here."
The HUD funding is for housing projects for native Hawaiians. It could be used to build homes, invest in infrastructure or even for shelters for the homeless.
DHHL chair Jobie Masagatani said her agency has made a lot of progress in spending down its unused federal money. Last year, it invested a record $14 million in housing projects.
She said the unspent funds grew in recently years partly because of staffing shortages at Hawaiian Homes. The agency also faced a lot of delays in the procurement and permitting process, she said.
"We've really done a lot to improve our expenditures," Masagatani said.
"I think yes, I think we're trying to do a better job of whittling down or providing better options or as many options as we can."