Affordable housing draws ire
While local home prices skyrocket, two affordable developments in Ewa Beach are facing criticism
The need for affordable housing on Oahu is greater than ever, with median home prices that hover at more than $600,000 and studio apartments that fetch monthly rents of $1,000 or more.
But two affordable housing projects slated for Ewa Beach are drawing fire from some area leaders. The objections range from predictable concerns about traffic to more incendiary claims that the affordable homes will attract undesirable people who otherwise couldn't afford to live there.
But the largest concern seems to lie with what critics call unacceptable changes in the scope of the projects. One of the projects, an affordable apartment development, also will include market-rate homes; the other project, an affordable assisted-living community for seniors, will include rental properties for nonseniors to be sold as leasehold properties for moderate-income people.
The projects come at a time when officials routinely approve developments that include just 20 percent to 30 percent affordable units. The planned projects in Ewa would turn the standard ratio upside down. Only 25 percent to 35 percent of the units would be sold or rented at market rates; the rest would be affordable.
Kevin Carney, a vice president with the nonprofit Ecumenical Association for Housing Inc. of San Raphael, Calif., said revenue from 50 planned market-rate homes will pay for the 192 affordable units. EAH, which develops and manages affordable housing projects in California and Hawaii, is building the project with the local entity Hui Kauhale Inc. and Avalon Development Co. Inc.
Pamela Witty-Oakland, executive director of the St. Francis Residential Care Community, said the same principle is guiding development of Franciscan Vistas Ewa, the community for seniors.
"It's the model that developers use when they do affordable housing," she said.
But state Rep. Rida Cabanilla, who represents the area, objects.
"The biggest issue in the community is that it borders Ewa Elementary School," she said. That has people concerned that the project will bring drugs and "a lot of poverty-related crime" to the neighborhood, along with abandoned vehicles and "people fighting," she said.
"The No. 1 concern is drugs," she said.
Cabanilla said this concern had been raised by constituents and she is representing their interests by voicing them.
What has Cabanilla personally bothered is the way the projects have evolved. Both Hui Kauhale and St. Francis obtained their properties through a partnership with the city of Honolulu, which condemned land from Oahu Sugar Co. after it shut down its Ewa sugar plantation, Witty-Oakland said. With workers facing the loss of their jobs and company housing, the city sought out developers to use the land to build homes.
Although city and federal rules required only 51 percent of the units to be affordable, Hui Kauhale initially planned for all of its units to be affordable rentals and St. Francis planned for all of its properties to be affordable units for the elderly. But as construction costs have soared and little state money is available for affordable housing projects, the developers want to amend their plans.
Hui Kauhale would subsidize the development of 192 affordable rentals with the sale of 50 fee-simple homes at market rates. St. Francis wants to sell as leasehold properties about one-third of the 325 units it plans to build.
Witty-Oakland points out that many of the people who will live at Franciscan Vistas Ewa already live in the area, which means the project will not contribute much to Ewa's notorious traffic problems. And Carney notes that some teachers at Ewa Beach Elementary School would likely qualify for Hui Kauhale's rentals.
Both developers are firmly established in Hawaii. EAH manages Chinatown Manor, Kukui Tower, Kulana Nani Apartments, the Kalani Garden Apartments and West Loch Elderly Village on Oahu, which total 899 units. The St. Francis Residential Care Community is part of the St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawaii.
But the opponents are unswayed.
"Put me in charge of the project, I'll build them without putting in market-priced homes," said Jeff Alexander, an Ewa Beach Neighborhood Board member who is calling for a moratorium on all residential development in the area.
Cabanilla said that the developers simply should stick to their original plans.
"Nobody questions them because they're supposed to be benevolent (nonprofit) corporations that do the public good," she said.
State Rep. Michael Kahikina, chairman of the House Housing Committee, said the benefits of the projects outweigh the potential costs. He said he had been impressed by the effect EAH's California projects have had on residents.
Residents of those projects live in a beautiful place and their self-esteem is up, he said.
In fact, Kahikina said that Cabanilla herself has called for help in dealing with Ewa's homeless problem.
"It's difficult for me to understand why she's saying we need housing for the homeless on one hand, but saying 'not in my backyard' on the other," he said.