Helping Island Homebuyers

By Dennis Oshiro
Wednesday - June 09, 2010
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By Dennis Oshiro
Executive Director of Hawaii HomeOwnership Center

For Kerwin Stenstrom, the 500th homebuyer in the Hawaii HomeOwnership Center’s (HHOC) homebuyer education and counseling program, homeownership seemed like a long shot. However, he signed up for the program and was able to purchase a home.

He says, “It would not have been possible without the Hawaii HomeOwnership Center.” He also points out that any first-time homeowner who needs guidance, support and education on the path to home ownership is encouraged to complete the program because it is so valuable and will point them in the right direction for ownership.

HHOC started services in October 2003 to help people like Kerwin. Our founders were committed to help strengthen communities by supporting first-time buyers in overcoming barriers to homeownership.

To date, more than 2,000 member families on Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island have achieved more than 640 closed loans; more than half of the buyers have low or moderate income levels and would not qualify for a conventional mortgage loan.

Homeownership is critical to the stability of our neighborhoods. Statistically, more children from families that own their homes go on to higher education than those who come from renters. Among homeowners, there are fewer teenage pregnancies, less crime and homeowners are more engaged in their communities.

Hawaii HomeOwnership Center’s (front, from left) Guy Inouye, Hana Hill, Diane Grace, Becky Yara, Alison Ries, Reina Miyamoto (back) Lehua Rose-Mallot, Dennis Oshiro, Teri Connelly, Vaun Owen and Dale Tomei

The preservation of home-ownership is just as important as the purchase itself. In early 2009, in response to the needs of our community members, HHOC started a statewide foreclosure prevention program through its office on Oahu. There were no additions to staff. Reina Miyamoto, HHOC program director adds, “We thought our three counselors would do both, homebuyer education along with fore-closure counseling. We anticipated 108 new cases by the end of our first year, but we hit 100 before the end of six months and 200 in 10 months!”

Foreclosure counseling is offered at no charge to homeowners seeking guidance on their mortgage situation or to those who are required to attend counseling as part of their loan modification agreement. During his temporary loan modification period, one client writes, “With this program in place ... a lot more hurting people in the community have an option and have hope, and sometimes hope is all you have left.”

Becky Yara, a senior counselor with HHOC in Honolulu for the past six years, says, “While helping homebuyers is a very fulfilling service, foreclosure prevention counseling is a very immediate need. Every situation is different and requires much more time and effort to analyze before presenting cases to lenders and servicers.”

We are having a special Homebuyer and Homeowner Fair from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 19 at Kapolei Hale located at 1000 Uluohia St. We’ll have experts and seminar on many topics including fore-closure prevention. For more information, call 523-9500, or log onto

The Hawaii HomeOwnership Center is affiliated nationally with NeighborWorks America ( a nonprofit network that was chartered by Congress in 1978 to provide financial support, technical assistance and training for community-based revitalization efforts. There are more than 230 community-based offices similar to HHOC throughout the 50 states.

NeighborWorks America and government support accounts for 41 percent of HHOC’s annual budget. The balance is primarily supported by private contributions from companies and individuals. Support comes via cash donations, in-kind contributions, and volunteers in our classes or special events. HHOC just conducted its third annual golf fundraiser, “Chip In For HomeOwnership,” which raises money while expanding community awareness of our services.

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