When Kehaulani Filimoe'atu and Blossom Feiteira took on the housing issue in 2001, the state Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) that Congress had created upon Hawai'i’s 1959 statehood was not fulfilling its mandate to establish permanent homelands for Native Hawaiians. Some Native Hawaiians have been on a waiting list for 50 years while much of the land set aside for them is being leased to non-Hawaiians, including commercial ranchers and the U.S. military. Barriers to Native Hawaiians establishing homesteads include bureaucratic red tape, family debt, mortgage qualifications, and misunderstandings about how the system works. Native Hawaiians not only lack integration into the larger society but also lack the nation status Native Americans and Alaska Native have established with the Federal government.
Filimoe'atu and Feiteira were not deterred. They founded Hawaiian Community Assets to increase the success rate of its clients in achieving and sustaining home ownership. Through HCA and other organizations they have helped create and nurture, Filimoe'atu and Feiteira have addressed the barriers of debt, mortgage qualifications, and misunderstanding of the system. Their efforts have paid off. In some areas of the state, the number of homesteads awarded to Native Hawaiians has dramatically increased. The two women have worked with DHHL to accelerate the leasing process for homesteads; obtain prioritization for elderly Native Hawaiians; and present workshops on Native Hawaiian issues to over 8,000 Native Hawaiians. Over time, Filimoe'atu and Feiteira have organized a statewide coalition that has challenged federal banking regulators, resulting in the largest-ever lending commitment by a commercial bank to Native Hawaiians.