STAR-BULLETIN / FEBRUARY 2006
Kukui Gardens residents gathered last year to sign a petition to keep the 857-unit rental complex affordable for low- and moderate-income residents.
Residents urge state to buy Kukui Gardens
About 15 Kukui Gardens residents and supporters asked state lawmakers to approve a bill to fund the purchase of the 857-unit affordable-housing complex, in case a deal to sell the complex falls through.
"We support anything that's going to help our cause," Carol Anzai, Kukui Gardens resident manager and president of the Kukui Gardens Association, said yesterday after a hearing before the House Finance Committee.
Kukui Gardens Corp. is selling the 857-unit complex to California-based Carmel Partners, which is expected to close the deal next month. Kukui Gardens, on the edge of Chinatown on Liliha Street, was built with federal funds that require it to remain affordable until 2011.
At least 75 percent of the residents make 80 percent or less than the average median income, said Bob Nakata, a board member of nonprofit Faith Action and Community Equity.
Last month, Carmel Partners reached an agreement with the Kukui Gardens Residents Association and FACE that would allow them to purchase half of the property for $55 million, but the state would need to subsidize the money.
Rep. Karl Rhoads (D, Kakaako-Iwilei-Honolulu) introduced House Bill 667 to fund the purchase through a condemnation lawsuit, should the state decline to subsidize the $55 million.
"I don't relish the idea of using eminent domain, because it is expensive and it is coercive, but that is the trump card. If all else fails we can do eminent domain. I would certainly hope it doesn't come to that," he said.
Committee Chairman Rep. Marcus Oshiro deferred a vote on the bill last night until he hears three other bills relating to Kukui Gardens introduced by Rhoads, who said he is trying several options such as increasing revenue bonds.
"I don't think it's trouble," Rhoads said after the hearing. "Something's going to come out of finance. I don't know what it's going to be yet."
Rhoads added that a vote must occur before March 6.
About a dozen Kukui residents showed up for the hearing. Wai Kwon Low, a Kukui resident for 36 years who is now in her 80s, said she would be forced to leave if the rent went higher than her $595 rent.
"I don't know where to go," Low said. "Only the Social Security. No more work. No more money."
Rhoads said it would be cheaper for the state to purchase the property for $130 million from Carmel rather than build another affordable complex for $350 million.
"We shudder to think if we lose Kukui Gardens," Rhoads said.