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MAUI, Hawaii – If one community group has its way, roughly 135,000 Native Hawaiians will have their financial and mortgage needs met under one umbrella. Hawaiian Community Assets Inc.(HACI), a non-profit community development organization, is in the final stages of establishing a credit union, bank and mortgage lending company to meet the needs of low to moderate income Native Hawaiians, who organizers say, have access to capital but have traditionally been turned down for conventional loans. Jim Wagele, HACI’s executive director and a retired senior vice president at Bank of America Corp., said the group has received operating capital of $150,000 to launch a home ownership education program later this month and $500,000 for its mortgage lending program that will start in September. The organization’s Hawaii Community Credit Union is in the process of securing community development funding and partnerships with plans to open within a year. The credit union will offer traditional products such as share accounts, savings and credit cards. “We’re pulling together all the different pieces of a holistic approach of not only taking steps to improve the lives of individual people, but also taking steps to create change in the community through financing of commercial activities,” Wagele recently told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Wagele along with Ian Chan Hodges, managing director of Responsible Markets LLC, a Maui/San Jose based venture catalyst firm, have been working with Bank of America over the last two years to commit $3.5 million of cash and in-kind technical assistance toward the start up of HACI’s Bank of Aloha. The bank will offer commercial lending funding such as housing construction, small-business loans and community revitalization and improvement projects. Earlier this month, Bank Aloha went through the third phase of its charter application process in addition to meeting with private investors to raise the remaining $5 million in start-up capital. The bank will offer traditional products such as checking and savings account, business loans and credit cards and is slated to open for business next year, Chan Hodges said. “This is years in the making and its impact will be far-reaching for many Hawaiians who have capital but don’t know where to invest it,” Chan Hodges said. While the bank and credit union will certainly provide much-needed services, the driving force will be its Hawaii Community Lending firm, Wagele said. He expects to process 300 mortgages over the next two years and through grants from Bank of America and expects to educate 500 Hawaiians on the basics of qualifying for a mortgage loan. The mortgage company is expected to open by early fall, Chan Hodges said. In the past, potential homeowners had to tough it out on the Hawaiian Homes waiting list to become eligible for a homestead lot but would often fail to qualify for a mortgage to buy the house on the lot because of a lack of ownership education, Wagele said. As a result, the homestead lot would return back to the waiting list. “The highest priority is to get Hawaiians onto the land, and that was the roots of the initiative,” Wagele said. Wagele has been a tireless advocate of home ownership for almost two decades. In 1993, when BankAmerica Corp. purchased HonFed Federal Savings Bank of Honolulu, he was pivotal in securing $150 million from Bank of America to offer home loans on all of the Hawaiian islands. Since Bank of America’s merger with NationsBank Corp. a few years ago, the Federal Reserve Board ordered bank executives to follow through on its home loan-funding program. But the pace has gone exceedingly slow, Wagele said, until now. HACI’s efforts place it in the realm of only two other institutions that have catered services and products to Native Hawaiians and Indians. First American Credit Union in Window Rock, Ariz., and Blackfeet National Bank in Browning, Mont., has success track records in meeting the financial needs of natives, according to the North American Native Bankers Association, formed in 1998 to increase the number of Indian-owned banks in U.S. and Canada. Wagele is slated to serve as Bank Aloha’s CEO and president. Carl Cunningham, former president of Honolulu Mortgage, will head Hawaii Community Lending. At press time, a president/CEO was not named for the Hawaiian Community Credit Union. -

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