Could This Plantation-Style Village Be a Solution to Hawai‘i’s Homeless Problem?
New proposal draws public-private partners together to help turn a Ke‘ehi Lagoon property into an affordable community for homeless families.
Photo: Courtesy of Aio Foundation
A new plan to help homeless families in a plantation-style community near Ke‘ehi Lagoon is bringing together local businesses, state and city government agencies and labor unions for a proposed 200-plus-unit project called Kahauiki Village.
The spark of the idea came from entrepreneurial businessman Duane Kurisu*, who saw the opportunity to reach out to Honolulu’s homeless while searching for a new location for a radio transmitter tower that is being displaced by construction of the rail-transit line. (He also owns ESPN Sports Radio.) The site currently hosts a paintball operation which would remain until the homeless project moves ahead.
The project would use property owned by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, under Gov. David Ige’s emergency proclamation (issued in October and extended since then to give the state more flexibility in responding to the homeless crisis). The City and County of Honolulu would be the 30-year lessee at a fee of $1 a year; and aio Foundation would raise money for improvements and hire experienced managers to run the operation.
Organizers estimate tenants will pay $500 a month rent with leases and options to extend. The pilot project requires Land Board approval. The core homes would be modular units that were used to house tsunami survivors in Japan. Architect Lloyd Sueda is proposing modifying them, with wood siding and corrugated roofs reminiscent of old plantation homes.
Kurisu said he was moved to act by stories on homelessness that appeared in the April 2015 issue of HONOLULU Magazine, by writer Mary Vorsino and photographer Diana Kim.
The Big-Island-born Kurisu grew up in the ’50s and ’60s in the sugar plantation town of Hakalau (“Hilo was a big city to us,” he says), where the rent was $20 a month, people led simple lives and shared what they had. “You caught three fish, you gave two away, you kept one for your family,” he recalls.
Kurisu, a real estate developer, sees the project as starting simply, with villagelike groupings of cottages, shared restrooms, fruit trees, vegetable gardens and playgrounds. “We, as aio Foundation, should step forward and take the initiative to build something where people who live there can live with dignity.” For more info, go to kahauiki.org.
*Disclosure: Kurisu is the chairman and CEO of aio, the parent company of PacificBasin Communications, which publishes HONOLULU Magazine.