This Plantation-Style Village Helps Hawai‘i’s Once-Homeless Families
The first 30 families moved in in mid-January. When all phases are complete, Kahauiki Village will include 153 modular homes and more than 600 residents.
Photos: Aaron K. Yoshino
A plantation-style village built to house once-homeless families has sprung up in a Sand Island field last used to play paintball. Kahauiki was constructed by volunteers from business, government, labor unions, the military and the community who modified modular homes originally used to shelter victims of Japan’s Tōhoku tsunami in 2011. The old-school yet modern village is the vision of businessman/entrepreneur Duane Kurisu, head of the aio Foundation and the driving force behind the volunteer-fueled development. The first 30 families moved in in mid-January.
Dalgene Ka‘auwai, her husband, Ronald, and their 5-year-old grandson, Malachi, share a tidy one-bedroom house. “It just feels so good, so good to just have your own space,” she says. “Malachi loves it. I like the fact that he has a lot of kids that he can play with and interact with.”
Ka‘auwai works as a cashier. Her husband’s in construction, so his layoff last year hit them hard. “At one point you had everything and then, in the blink of an eye, everything is gone,” she says.
Born and raised in Kalihi, she has four children and seven grandchildren. They don’t collect welfare and never expected to spend their savings on bills, hotel rooms, and staying in churches and transitional housing.
Kahauiki is a modern $12 million, 13-acre development complete with solar microgrid, and traditional, with an Island-style vibe. And the families appreciate both aspects.
When all phases are complete, the village will include 153 modular homes and more than 600 residents. The units, since refurbished, helped shelter Japan tsunami victims in 2011. Rent goes for $725 a month for a one-bedroom home and $900 a month for two bedrooms, half the market rate.
Entrepreneur/businessman Duane Kurisu envisioned the plantation-style village after reading a package of stories about the plight of homeless families in HONOLULU Magazine in April 2015.
Volunteers were able to get the project move-in ready in less than a year. At the dedication, Kurisu grew teary thanking all those who helped in the extraordinary effort. “I am in awe of the power we can harness when state and city governments, contractors, engineers, local businesses, community volunteer groups, labor unions and the military work together.”
Management of the village is shared through a partnership between the Institute for Human Services, overseeing social services case management working with other agencies, and Newmark Grubb/CBI, handling day-to-day property management.
Kimo Carvalho, IHS spokesman, says that combination provides much-needed expertise and stability to keep the village running. Weeks in, with families settling in, he says the village is off to a good start. “I think putting people together in tiny homes that are relatively close—they get to know each other and they help each other out,” he says.
The families appreciate that closeness, Ka‘auwai says: “It’s such a tight-knit community that it doesn’t matter where he (her grandson) plays, we can see him.”
And Carvalho says the set rent encourages residents to save, in contrast to public housing, which takes a percentage of earnings. “They’re motivated; they want to save for market-rate housing,” he says.
Carvalho says the idea is drawing people who have read about the village “driving in and wanting to apply to live here.” He explains the intent for formerly homeless folks, but says it points to a larger need for starter homes. “People are saying that’s exactly what I need to survive in Hawai‘i.”
For Ka‘auwai, “It’s home, it’s what it is. To be able to go to work and come home, I think that’s the biggest blessing right now, that I have a home that I can come home to.”
Want to help? Monetary donations can be made at kahauiki.org.
(Disclosure: aio is HONOLULU’s parent company.)