Maui affordable housing project triggers land dispute

A Native Hawaiian family claims the land is theirs.
Published: Oct. 24, 2022 at 6:37 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 24, 2022 at 11:18 PM HST
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WAIEHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Dozens lined Kahekili Highway near Waiehu Beach Road on Monday holding signs and Hawaiian flags.

The area they say they are protecting is where non-profit organization Maui Economic Opportunity plans to build 120 affordable rental units for low-income families.

The Native Hawaiian family says the land belongs to them.

“The ohana malama the aina, they’re growing kalo in there, they protect iwi kupuna. They do the cultural practices and they come together as an ohana. This is the place where their iwi kupuna, their ancestral remains are buried or kanu,” said family liaison Noelani Ahia.

The family claims the parcel in Waiehu is “kuleana land,” which was land that was granted to Native Hawaiian farmers back in the 1800s.

The ownership is often not well documented.

MEO says the property in question is actually a royal patent grant, which is an outright purchase of government land.

MEO Chief Executive Officer Debbie Cabebe issued this statement:

“We respect the people, this land and the process to ensure that all legal rights are maintained. It is for this reason that we embraced the exhaustive judicial process, which found, without question, that Maui Economic Opportunity is the legal owner of record with a clear title dating back to King Lunalilo. Claims of ancestral interest in the property have been deemed without merit by the courts. No significant archeological sites have been identified to date, however monitoring will continue throughout the project.”

MEO, along with Maui police, served a notices to vacate last week. MEO said the individuals were trespassing and squatting on their property.

“Unauthorized squatting and trespassing inhibit the creation of urgently needed affordable housing units for local individuals and families. Additionally, we reached out to an area shelter provider to serve those in need of relocation assistance after the Notice to Vacate was issued,” Cabebe said in the statement.

The project aims to build one-, two-, and three- bedroom apartments for residents earning 30% to 60% of the Area Median Income with monthly rents starting at around $569 for a one bedroom.

The website states it was slated to break ground last year.

The Native Hawaiian family said they are not going anywhere.

“The important thing is to keep Hawaiians on Hawaiian lands,” Ahia said.

“It’s kind of hypocritical to say that you want to build housing, but you’re going to actually displace more Hawaiians in the process of building that housing.”

MEO said it’s dedicated to “strengthening the community while helping people in need.”

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