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April 17th, 2011
By Colin M. Stewart
Foreclosure Davids and banking Goliaths have been doing battle in East Hawaii for years.
For some, saving the family home occupies most of their waking moments. Their days are filled with scouring the Internet and talking to others in the same boat, looking for some way to cling to their piece of the Big Island.
They come from all walks of life but have become driven to re-educate themselves so they can wage their own legal battles. When trying to explain their position, they can spout memorized paragraphs of esoteric state, county and federal laws.
To the uninitiated, they can come off as obsessed, confused or just downright ornery. Each has his or her story to tell, and try as they might, they feel like they just can’t get anyone to listen.
It is, they say, a powerless, draining existence.
But on Friday, about 40 Big Island homeowners and their supporters joined forces to make their voices heard. With three separate bills addressing Hawaii home foreclosures in the state Legislature, they gathered in Hilo to let their legislators and the community know they need help, and they need it now.
For Hawaiian Paradise Park resident and single father Kalama “Skip” Hiapo, 50, Friday’s protest was another in a long line of attempts to get someone, anyone, to listen to his plight.
A former sewage pumper for Kona Lua Inc., Hiapo lost his job in February 2009. Since then, he has tried to find work to support himself and his three children, Saysha, Sage and Renny. He’s also struggled to find a way to continue paying the mortgage on his home near 19th Avenue and Makuu Drive, which he shares with his friend and fellow Koa Puna motorcycle club member, Louis Rego, 58.
Last year, Hiapo said, he paid a man recommended to him $1,400 to help him file for a renegotiation with his lender. Instead, the man took off with his money. Hiapo was served with eviction papers earlier this year, and anticipates being thrown out of his home in June. Unable to find work, he currently volunteers his time at the Makuu Market in Pahoa.
“I don’t want to lose what I have worked so hard for,” Hiapo said. “All I want is for someone to tell me what I can do. I don’t have much education, so this is hard for me to understand what to do.”
Even if the Legislature does manage to pass a bill offering relief to homeowners, Hiapo says he worries it may be too late for him and his family.
“I feel like I’ve just got to leave it up to God’s hands now,” he added. “I’m just hoping for the best.
“If we lose the house, I don’t know what we’ll do. With all this, my credit (rating) has fallen. I’m not going to be able for to get another loan.”
Community organizers like K.R. “Winddancer” Hunt and Charles W. Brooks — who have dealt with their own foreclosures while also counseling dozens of others — also came to the State Office Building in Hilo to lead the protest at a doorstep auction of foreclosed properties being held there.
Holding aloft a sign alleging the theft of $20 trillion in homes, Hunt shouted over the auctioneer, Pahoa resident Bob Dukat.
“This auction is illegal!” he cried. “You have no right to be on this property. You are unlicensed. … We have called the police!”
As Hunt emboldened the attendees, who stood clutching their own signs bearing the names of their lenders and their pleas for help, Brooks quietly walked among them, placing a hand on a shoulder from time to time and reminding people to keep their cool.
“The last thing we need here is violence,” he whispered. “Stay calm.”
A few police officers did respond, and listened to several of the distressed homeowners. Mostly, the officers observed, alert if the war of words became physical.
Surrounded by chaos, Dukat calmly read off the addresses of several dozen properties facing foreclosure. Action in most cases was continued to a later date. Several properties did go up for auction, Dukat raising his voice to be heard above the crowd.
When no bids were made, Dukat intoned the familiar “Going once, going twice, sold” — which in most cases means the property returns to the lender.
When that happened, some in crowd would cry “another property stolen.”
Unflappable, Dukat powered through his list. As soon as he was done, he headed for his car, and the crowd dispersed.
Also on hand were members of Faith Action for Community Equity, or FACE, an interfaith organization dedicated to supporting activism in Hawaii.
According to FACE representative Bev Harbin, her organization is expanding to the Big Isle, and Friday’s protest seemed like a good time to get involved locally.
She and her associates distributed questionnaires to the attendees, asking them about their foreclosure experiences. Once they are collected, she said, the questionnaires and a petition will be forwarded to the state Attorney General’s Office.
They also handed out contact information for Big Island legislators.
“Call your representatives!” Harbin shouted to the crowd. “Tell them ‘Listen, we need help on this stuff!’ … (District 5 state Rep.) Bob Herkes is your friend!”