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Bold ideas for affordable housing in Hawai’i

Posted on Mar 25, 2019 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main

Governor Ige’s proposal to build for-sale condominiums on state land with 99-year leases has been called “a bold move” to help more people afford to buy a home. Under the plan, the state would retain ownership of the land and determine the terms of resale if owners decide to sell at a later date. “In that way, we could keep the units affordable, plan growth around those communities, create jobs and make the most of unused state lands,” said the governor.

So far, the idea of increasing the number of affordable for-sale homes through long-term state leasehold has drawn support from many quarters. The proposal would include parcels along the rail transit route on O‘ahu as well as state lands on all islands. At press time, bills that would enable the state to proceed with the plan are moving through the Legislature. Although many details would have to be worked out, Craig Hirai, the executive director of the Hawai‘i Housing Finance and Development Corporation (HHFDC), welcomes the chance to discuss the concept to see what people are willing to support.

Gov Ige and HHFDC's Craig Hirai at the Hale Kewalo groundbreaking.

Gov Ige and HHFDC’s Craig Hirai at the Hale Kewalo groundbreaking.

“We need to find out what will work and what people will buy, Hirai said. “No one has done 99-year leasehold condos in Hawai‘i. We want to test the market. So the more ideas, the merrier.”  He was referring to questions related to implementation and a bill from Sen. Stanley Chang, who has discussed how Singapore has tackled its own affordable housing crunch. Hirai said transit-oriented development seems the obvious answer to building more affordable units on O‘ahu. “The state is the largest single land owner along the rail line — something like 1,000 acres — from UH West O‘ahu to the stadium to Kalihi Kai, Dillingham and Liliha,” he explained. “The housing will cost less because the buyer won’t be paying for the land or the infrastructure up front, and the state can control the leasing. We need to explore potential scenarios to find the right formula.”

Meanwhile, HHFDC is continuing its steady pace of bringing more affordable rentals online. “We closed nine Rental Housing Revolving Fund projects in the current fiscal year, and since the governor has been in office, we’ve awarded close to 3,000 units from that fund,” said Hirai. “ArtSpace Lofts and Hale Kewalo should be done this year, with more projects such as the Nohona Hale micro-units in the pipeline.” The range of rentals in the 80 percent and below Area Median Income (AMI) range include:

The Pa'i Foundation's ArtSpace Lofts rendering

The Pa’i Foundation’s ArtSpace Lofts rendering

The Pa'i Foundation's ArtSpace Loft's hula studio

The Pa’i Foundation’s ArtSpace Loft’s hula studio

Ola Key ‘Ilima Artspace Lofts – The 84-unit complex is the first of its kind for Hawai‘i and is designed for artists of all types. Rents will be dependent on income, ranging from about $600 a month for a small one-bedroom to under $1,700 for a three-bedroom. Available units range from 30, 50 to 60 percent AMI. The nonprofit PA‘I Foundation will manage the ground-floor space for Native Hawaiian art performances, education and other community uses. Completion: 2019.

Hale Kewalo rendering

Hale Kewalo rendering

Hale Kewalo – The project of 128 rental units across from Ala Moana Center is expected to be completed this year. It focuses on those earning 30 to 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). The rents for the one-, two- and three-bedroom units will vary, depending on resident income levels. Rents include water, electricity and sewer. Completion: 2019.



Nohona Hale, the state's first micro-units

Nohona Hale, the state’s first micro-units

Nohona Hale – The state’s first micro-units in Kaka‘ako through a partnership between Bronx Pro Group, Swinerton Builders and non-profit EAH Housing. The 300-square-foot studios are on the rail transit line with 70-square-foot lanais and floor-to-ceiling windows to provide a sense of openness. Completion: January 2020.


Keahumoa Place, an affordable rental community for families in Kapolei.

Keahumoa Place, an affordable rental community for families in Kapolei.

Keahumoa Place – An affordable Kapolei rental community by the Michaels Organization of 320 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units aimed at families earning 80 percent or less AMI. The two-story garden–style buildings will include a community center, picnic area, tot lot and pet park Completion: First phase – late 2019.



Read more in the April Capitol Connection newsletter.

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