Woman to be evicted from DHHL project after blood quantum review

Woman to be evicted from DHHL project after blood quantum review
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

KAPOLEI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After four years of living in a Hawaiian Home Lands development, a Kapolei woman says officials are now telling her she doesn't have the blood quantum to stay and will be evicted.

"They literally told me, 'Sorry. You're no longer 50 percent Hawaiian and you need to move out,'" Margaret Miguel said.

Miguel qualified for her home in 2006, but 10 years later DHHL officials say a review of her genealogy found she isn't half Hawaiian as required for homesteaders.

Officials say her case is extremely rare -- but an example of the uncertainty surrounding the future for Hawaiian Home Lands as fewer people meet the Congressionally-mandated 50 percent blood quantum.

Miguel has been living at Kapolei Ho'olimalima, a first of its kind rent-to-own project for the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

For the last 15 years, tenants' rent has been going toward their future mortgage. DHHL officials began reviewing all applicants now that the transfer to home ownership is set to take place and say that's when the blood quantum dispute came up.

"We turned in documents that we got from the Department of Health that said my grandfather is 100 percent, my grandmother is 100 percent, which makes my mom 100 percent Hawaiian and which automatically makes my siblings and I 50 percent," Miguel said.

Miguel says after investing nearly $50,000 towards home ownership in the rent-to-own development, she received notice in 2014 that there was a problem verifying her blood quantum.

"Regardless if my paperwork was wrong. We turned in what was given us to by the Department of Health. We didn't falsify anything. We were lead to assume we're 50 percent Hawaiian," said Miguel.

But DHHL officials say during their review of all Ho'olimalima tenants to convert them from renters to leasees, they discovered Miguel isn't eligible. They say their research indicates Miguel's great-grandfather is part Chinese.

"It is very heartbreaking for staff because staff understands the implications of reviews and determinations, but when you're provided with new information or additional information you have to make the assessment based on that new information," said William Aila, deputy chief of the Department for Hawaiian Home Lands.

Aila says the only time a discrepancy can arise or end up in a new qualification determination is when somebody is either transferring a lease, or in this case, converting from a renter to a leasee. He says the department does not do random audits.

DHHL gave Miguel the last two years to try prove she remains qualified through her father's genealogy, but she has been unable to do so. The single mother was served with an eviction letter on Monday, but she's hoping DHHL will intervene and honor her initial approval.

"You cannot teach your kids to give up, right? You have to teach them to fight and do what's right and I think what I'm doing is right. I mean, other people may not think so, but I feel that I deserve to stay here. I feel that I deserve to be able to purchase my home and be a Native Hawaiian," said Miguel.

If she can't stay, Miguel's hoping her mother will be allowed to take her spot in the rent-to-own program -- but DHHL says that wouldn't be fair.

"To allow the mom to come in and take her place right now would be to deny someone next on the wait list an opportunity. So you see where the Department is trying to balance the needs of all beneficiaries," said Aila.

DHHL officials say this dispute highlights a growing desire by many to lower the required blood quantum, something that can only happen with an act of Congress.

"Blood quantum is just a number. It's a number that people get off of paper that may or may not be accurate. If you're Hawaiian, you're Hawaiian," said Miguel.

DHHL officials say they're still waiting on a final legal decision from the state Attorney General's office.

If nothing changes, Miguel says she'll be evicted the day before Thanksgiving.

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