Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fulfilling the Dream of Homeownership in Paradise

This blog is part of our 35th Anniversary Celebration series, highlighting NeighborWorks member organizations which are celebrating milestone years marking either their membership in the network or their incorporation as an organization.

By Brittany Hutson, NeighborWorks
America Public Relations fellow

Hawaii is known for its tranquil waters and natural beauty, but the state is also one of the most expensive places to live and buy a home. For 10 years, Hawai‘i HomeOwnership Center (HHOC), based in Honolulu, has been a resource for providing education, information, and support for first-time homeowners. Since the average income does not mirror the high cost of living in the state, HHOC’s services are particularly helpful to low and moderate income households. The organization has assisted more than 930 families become first-time home buyers and this year, HHOC anticipates assisting their 1,000th homeowner.

Hawaii was not immune to the effects of the global economic crisis; HHOC had to develop new strategies to assist their clients. “We never thought that we’d see foreclosures on a high level since real estate has always been a finite commodity in our state,” says HHOC Executive Director Dennis Oshiro. “We have been compelled to deal with the rising number of families in danger of losing their homes dues to financial hardships, as well as educate the public about avoiding modification scams.”

Maria Stewart and Matthew Kriegler attended a Hawaii HomeOwnwership
Center orientation and thought, “homeownership is for other people.” 
They signed up anyway and realized homeownership was
possible. Now they enjoy meals in their own backyard.
After noticing a growing need from homeowners that wanted assistance in resolving their mortgage situation, HHOC added a foreclosure prevention counseling program in February 2009. Instead of hiring new staff, HHOC’s counselors were trained and became certified as foreclosure counselors. Since the foreclosure prevention program’s implementation, over 750 families have been assisted by HHOC. Although lower interest rates have helped create a sellers’ market, rising sales prices and tight credit restrictions for low down payment buyers have made it challenging for low and moderate income buyers to purchase homes, says Oshiro. “In the last four years, more of our clientele have been long-term clients that require additional support to purchase a home.”

For years, Mary Ellen Farias has kept her receipts in a zip lock bag as part of
her system for tracking expenses. Now Farias is a homeowner.
She says, “I did it for my son.”
Oshiro recalls a story about a client, whom he calls ”Keone”, who was able to purchase a home for his wife and four children after completing HHOC’s homebuyer education classes. Keone and his wife were both employed but could not afford to rent a home. The family alternated living with their friends and family members for at least a year. Keone and his wife took HHOC’s online education classes—through which they learned about money management, getting a mortgage, shopping for a home, and credit—and attended counseling sessions.

Oshiro recalls his staff commenting, “Keone was like a sponge soaking up every bit of information at his meetings. He is the only client we know of that read the entire 1-1/2 inch textbook from cover to cover!” Keone and his family now live in a home of their own. “Keone’s open attitude towards learning and his enthusiasm of working towards his dream of homeownership reflects what we have seen in many clients after they are equipped to make homeownership possible,” says Oshiro.

Oshiro says being a part of the NeighborWorks network has allowed HHOC to “operate at a high-level on behalf of our clients” because of the funding and technical assistance NeighborWorks provides. 

Learn more about HHOC at