CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Genshiro Kawamoto handed over keys to three Kahala homes yesterday, allowing the families he selected to live in them rent-free. Above, the Worley family moves in front of their home: Lyn Worley, left; Tori Kalama-Pang, daughter; Eryck Moler, Worley's brother; Kawamoto; and Tesia Worley. From bottom, Chaztin Worley, Starla Tai, and Jordan Tai, in light blue. CLICK FOR LARGE
New homes, many thanks in Kahala
Billionaire Gensiro Kawamoto hands over the keys to three families to live rent-free for two years
» Kahala neighborhood has mixed reaction to Kawamoto
Japanese billionaire Genshiro Kawamoto handed the keys to three of his homes along Kahala Avenue yesterday morning, surprising them with the news that they would all be "rent-free."
All three families thanked Kawamoto, bedecking him with lei and hugs.
Some read aloud the poem he composed, outlining his mission of giving deserving Hawaiian families an opportunity to raise their children into "fine men and women."
Kawamoto said he planned to offer the homes rent-free all along, but that he didn't want to announce it until yesterday.
The families are responsible for paying their own utilities.
Among the three families are: The Kahales, who will live at the colonial-style home at 4398 Kahala Ave., the Worleys, who will live at 4578 Kahala Ave., and the Gusmans, who will live 4337 Kahala Ave.
Kawamoto personally interviewed and picked them from more than 3,000 letters that poured in after announcing he would rent his Kahala homes for $150 to $200 a month.
No paperwork was actually signed yesterday. Kawamoto's plan is to offer the free rent to the families for two years, and then renew up to 10 years, or until the youngest child graduates from high school.
"I just want to thank the Lord for everything and for Kawamoto," said Dorie-Ann Kahale, the first to receive keys to her house. "I'm so grateful ... I just hope the neighbors will accept us. I want them to know me before they judge me."
Kahale, a working mother who is raising five daughters on her own, previously lived at the Onelau'ena shelter at Kalaeloa.
"I'm overwhelmed," she said, tearing up at the sight of the brightly lit kitchen and spacious rooms. "From the little box we had to what we have now."
For five months, Kahale said she and her daughters shared one room at the shelter. Prior to that, they camped out on the beach at Barber's Point.
They became homeless when rent became too high at their Waimanalo home.
Since 2002, Kawamoto has been quietly investing in the homes in Kahala, including the ones he offered rent-free yesterday, which cost him $2 million to $3 million apiece.
He said he wanted to transform Kahala from an exclusive neighborhood to a more open community reflecting Hawaii.
True, he said, he could have simply donated cash, but he wanted to take a different approach.
Kahale said her family will work on the yard rather than hire landscapers. She said her daughters have never had a yard to play in.
As for the neighbors who may be wary of having her in the area, she had this to say: "Get to know me. I'm a wonderful person."
The second family to receive their keys, the Worleys, arrived in a maroon van, and also greeted Kawamoto with gifts and lei.
Worley read a thank you statement in Japanese, ending with "Viva Kahala!"
She called Kawamoto "a wonderful human being."
Worley, a school clerk, has five kids ranging from four to 14, most of whom go to Kamehameha Schools.
Her eldest daughter, 14-year-old Tesia Worley, was crowned Miss Hawaii Teen America last year.
Worley's month-to-month rent in Waianae was just about to end, so she called the home an answer to her prayer.
"It's simple and it fits us," she said of the four-bedroom Tudor-style home. "It's not too big, and I won't have to yell too loud. We've got exactly what we need."
Worley said she would do her best to conserve energy. "I don't need a $5,000 electricity bill," she said.
"The neighbors are gonna love us," she said. "They just haven't met us yet."
She joked: "They won't see our clothesline."
Randy Key and Leeann Gusman will be moving into 4337 Kahala Ave. with six young children -- ages 2 to 9 -- from a one-bedroom unit at the Maile Land transitional shelter in Waianae.
The kids ran excitedly throughout the house, opening the refrigerator, and then explored the yard.
Gusman works full-time as a senior teller at Territorial Savings Bank. Key is a stay-at-home dad.
Charles Perkins, whose mother owns and rents the home across the street, said he wishes the family well.
But he said Kawamoto should not have taken down the fence.
"I'm just worried about the kids," he said. "There used to be a fence, and this is a busy part of the street."