Column: More low-cost housing for Kailua, isles

  • By Jon Davidann and Marya Grambs

  • July 1, 2020

Many of Hawaii’s young people who graduated from college on the mainland have decided to stay there to live, largely because they can find housing that is much less expensive than in Hawaii. Other people have moved to the mainland for the same reason.

Too many Hawaii residents are leaving because they cannot find housing here that is affordable to them. They have been priced out of Hawaii.

Hawaii is facing an affordable housing crisis — a shortage of tens of thousands of affordable housing units. Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic has made it even harder for families to pay for housing. For those reasons, it is distressing that some people have voiced concerns about a proposed affordable rental housing project in Kailua on Oahu.

The Kawainui Street Apartments would consist of 73 units located at the corner of Kawainui Street and Oneawa Street, the main road through the commercial district of Kailua. About 95% of the units would be for local families earning less than $72,300 per year, with monthly rents starting at $521 for one-bedroom units and $598 for two-bedroom units, depending on household income.

Rents would be adjusted annually for inflation, and those rents would be guaranteed for 61 years. Notably, seven units would be set aside for families experiencing homelessness, or at risk of becoming homeless, or formerly homeless.

This project is not like some other so-called “affordable housing” projects that actually consist of market-rate housing that is out of reach of working families. For example, “affordable housing” was selling for $583,000 in Kakaako. The Kawainui Street project will create true affordable housing, and Hawaii needs many more like it in all of our communities.

The location of the project reduces the need for personal vehicles because it is adjacent to a bus stop and within close walking distance of grocery stores, restaurants, retail outlets, coffee shops and other urban amenities. These retail and commercial businesses would also provide work opportunities for the renters. The project exemplifies the concept of the mixed-use, walkable neighborhood that minimizes the need for personal vehicles.

Nevertheless, some people have voiced concern that the project won’t have enough parking spaces because the design includes 53 parking stalls for the 73 apartments. In response, the developer is exploring options that would increase the parking to one stall for each unit. The revised design would be submitted to the city Department of Planning and Permitting for approval.

Other people have said the project is too tall. However, buildings of similar height (three to four stories) are located nearby, as the site is immediately adjacent to Kailua’s commercial district.

The concerns about building height and parking are similar to those that were raised about other affordable housing projects proposed for Kailua in the past. What has happened is that Kailua has had no new affordable housing since 1992, when the last affordable housing project in Kailua was built.

The Kawainui Street Apartment project represents a step toward solving Hawaii’s affordable housing crisis. Affordable housing should be built in many locations throughout Hawaii’s communities, including Kailua. We must be serious about keeping our people home.