Affordable development projects get shortchanged
WHEN the St. Francis Healthcare Foundation received a $3.5 million grant back in 2003 from the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation to pursue a 300-unit senior housing community in Ewa, the subsidiary -- St. Francis Residential Care Community -- was greeted with open arms by the Ewa Neighborhood Board, elected officials, neighbors to the project, and especially families with seniors seeking affordable housing and health care services.
The 23-acre site valued at just over $4 million behind the historic Ewa Sugar Plantation Manager's House was provided to the nonprofit for free (with the city covering about $2 million through a federal community development block grant and the rest from donations) under the auspices that the development would provide senior citizens on low to moderate incomes affordable housing.
With debates going on in the Ewa Plain regarding the stance for a moratorium on housing until the infrastructure to support it is in place, this particular housing project was immune from such debate because of the type of housing being proposed and the void in our society it would fill.
After the land was able to be purchased with federal and city subsidies under the guise that the purchase in its entirety would cater to seniors, a new entity emerged on the scene called St. Francis Development Corporation, with a plan titled "Franciscan Vistas Ewa." The new plan does not include 300 units for senior living, but rather only 171 rental apartments proposed for them. The rest of the land will instead be used for profit housing -- 100 flats and townhomes in addition to 56 cluster homes, all leasehold.
SOME HAVE called this maneuver by St. Francis Healthcare Foundation "bait and switch." In other words, the deal went down something similar to the Music Man coming to town. Only instead of it being in Gary, Indiana, the 76 trombones were blown in Ewa. The pitch made this time was that the community should turn over 23 undeveloped acres in the heart of Historic Ewa in return for the nonprofit to address the need for affordable rental housing for seniors. The deal sounded good, looked good, felt good and was, in principle, nothing but good.
After a two-year lull with no activity transpiring on the land given to St. Francis, unbeknownst to the community, the nonprofit comes up with a completely different plan. The new plan involves two-story market homes to go up for sale on the 23 acres, which undoubtedly will mix in young families directly in earshot of elders.
The demand for affordable senior housing is reflected in statistics that illustrate Ewa as one of the largest communities on Oahu with seniors. To scale back 300 units for seniors to 171 might seem insignificant to some, but in a housing crisis every unit counts to somebody out there somewhere.
From my understanding, the developer is claiming it needs an influx of capital or income generated from leasehold sales on 156 units to provide housing for 171 units for seniors. Better something than nothing, so to speak. However, scrutiny needs to be applied when the scope originally contained no such proposal when the deal made to award 23 acres was given to the nonprofit.
Furthermore, I would wholeheartedly support the project as it is currently being proposed by St. Francis if the city at least tried to find another developer to accomplish what was originally planned. I have authored House Concurrent Resolution 143 requesting the Public Housing Administration and the Hawaii Housing Finance Development Administration to impose conditions on agreements with eligible housing developers to develop housing projects in substantial compliance with their initial proposals. To not clear the slate and try again after St. Francis reneged on the original proposal is troubling.
THIS IS NOT to infer that St. Francis is in noncompliance to any building requirements. The main issue is that the conceptual plan originally proposed to the community is not what is being presented today. It is a big jump from senior housing, where each resident likely has just one vehicle or none at all, to market homes, where families are more than likely to have two, three or more vehicles per unit. We are living in conditions on the Ewa Plain where our roadways are unable to accommodate additional housing at this time, and that is why each and every development proposed needs to be studied.
When changes are made midstream or after the fact, we in the Ewa area are more skeptical than most and question the system to the fullest since we were the subjects and losers in the Ewa Villages scandal perpetrated by city employees a few years ago. There is a big difference between senior housing projects, with all the criteria imposed for it to qualify for grants, funding, subsidies and the like, to development that entails no criteria and for-profit undertakings.
Before the ink was dry on that deal, the same pitch was going on with another section of undeveloped property less than a quarter of a mile away. This, too, was a sound, mindful plan that would provide housing for the economically challenged. Again, after the deal was struck, market homes appeared from nowhere and are to blanket the landscape adjacent to prime golf course property. Why isn't anyone questioning the "switch" that took place without a public hearing, replacing the affordable housing that was supposed to front the golf course with for-profit homes priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars?
I ALSO introduced HCR 90 to address a rent increase scheme to be imposed upon an already established affordable housing complex. The complex known as West Loch Village, a city-owned project also in Ewa, will subject many of its tenants to a substantial rent increase that is to take effect April 1. This increase will force some of the residents to go without food or medicine to meet the rent increase. Everything should be done to prevent these people living out their golden years from having to make such a decision.
Rep. Rida Cabanilla, a Democrat, represents Waipahu, Honouliuli, West Loch and Ewa.