New Dorm-Size Dwellings Provide Rental Housing Close to Jobs, Bus Lines and Much of Urban Honolulu

Compact in Kaka‘ako.


New Dorm Size Dwellings Provide Rental Housing Close To Jobs Bus Lines And Much Of Urban Honolulu 47

Photo: Jonathan Lee, WCIT Architecture.



In a renovation of micro-unit proportions, developers transformed a small parking lot into Kaka‘ako’s newest stylish apartments. Early this year, individuals, couples and families moved into the 111 affordable rental units.


“Nohona Hale began as a very tall order for a very tiny site,” says Marian Gushiken, director of real estate development in Hawai‘i for nonprofit EAH Housing. The $52.7 million project rises up from Cooke Street, near historic Kewalo Theater and popular plate lunch restaurant Karen’s Kitchen. Each unit measures 285 square feet plus a 70-foot lānai. The units are just 14 feet across but feel larger because of 9-foot-high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows that lead to the lānai, featuring partial views of the ocean.


New Dorm Size Dwellings Provide Rental Housing Close To Jobs Bus Lines And Much Of Urban Honolulu 43 Large

A recurring design element—repeated on the lānai screens—comes from a 1927 street map of the Kaka‘ako neighborhood. Photo: Jonathan Lee, WCIT Architecture.



From the street, the first thing you notice about the new tower is the bright yellow second-floor balcony that resembles a chic café and shows off some of the shared space where residents can gather, meet and cook. There’s storage for bicycles, mopeds and surfboards but no residential parking.


Gushiken notes that each unit can have no more than two residents. Rents are calculated based on federal income limits that set monthly rates at $559 to $999 for people earning between $25,000 and $60,000 a year. She says 750 applied and the 16-story building was full by the end of March.


“We hope this serves as a case study to pursue a variety of affordable housing options in Hawai‘i.”

— Jonathan Lee
Project architect, WCIT Architecture


The tower is built on 4,400 square feet of the 9,600-square-foot lot. How big is that? Two basketball courts at nearby Mother Waldron Park measure 9,400 square feet and the typical lot size for a single-family home in the new Ho‘opili subdivision in ‘Ewa Beach measures 4,000 square feet.


The project came together with the state Hawai‘i Community Development Authority looking to foster an affordable rental project that provides smart growth and sustainability by using micro units, which had been talked about but not tried, Gushiken says. Other partners included the Hawai‘i Housing Finance and Development Corp. and Bronx Pro Group. She credits the success of Nohona Hale to the willingness of public and private groups to work together “to redefine and reimagine what affordable housing is.”


20 1015 Aia Gm Mtg Nohona Hale

Nohona Hale in Kaka‘ako. Photo: Jonathan Lee, WCIT Architecture.




What’s Nohona Hale Like?

  • Built to use natural ventilation instead of air conditioning.
  • Without a parking garage, residents catch the bus, walk, leave their cars at work or in nearby garages.
  • Vertical solar panels run up the side of the building, leaving the rooftop for solar water heating panels.
  • Each apartment has full-size appliances with shared laundry facilities in the common area.
  • Community kitchen available along with meeting area/lounge and individual garden plots.