Court official to oversee damages for Hawaiian homesteads

HONOLULU — The price of land in a specific area of Oahu will be used to determine damages owed to Native Hawaiian plaintiffs who have waited years for property administered by the state.

A court-appointed special master will determine the damages distributed to each plaintiff in a 1999 class-action lawsuit.

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The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled last week that the conduct of the the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands resulted in a growing list of Native Hawaiians waiting for homesteads, including some who died before the case was resolved.

Native Hawaiians are eligible to apply for 99-year leases at $1 per year for residential, ranching or farming leases on a land trust of 317 square miles (821 square kilometers) overseen by the Hawaiian Homelands agency.

About 2,700 applicants filed the lawsuit alleging breach of trust from the establishment of Hawaii’s statehood in 1959 until 1988.

The state Supreme Court ruled the lawsuit can proceed to the next stage, which includes calculating damages.

The damage amounts will be based on the fair market rental value of a residential lot in Maili in the Waianae District of Oahu for any given year, a method one of the lead plaintiff attorneys calls the Maili measure.

Attorney Carl Varady said the cost of a plot in Maili was selected as an equitable price point because it is not at the high end of the housing market.

“Maili was chosen because it’s a conservative measure and could be used as a valuation, not only for Oahu but neighbor island residential properties as well,” Varady said.

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The court ruled claimants, including descendants of deceased original claimants, will not be required to present proof of housing expenses to receive compensation.

“The people who were most impoverished and need the benefits of homesteading the most are the least likely to have proof. And I think the court recognized that,” Varady said.

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